Fireside chat with our 2023 Spirit of Service Award winner Judy Woodruff
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Fireside chat with our 2023 Spirit of Service Award winner Judy Woodruff

October 31, 2023

The 22nd annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® gala was held in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17 to honor exceptional federal employees who are committed to serving our nation.  

At the gala, the Partnership presented the 2023 Spirit of Service Award to Judy Woodruff, an iconic journalist with over 50 years of experience covering politics and current affairs for major news networks, including NBC, CNN and PBS.  

Woodruff has dedicated her career to supporting a more effective government by investigating the concerns of everyday people and holding our public institutions accountable. She now serves as the senior correspondent of the “PBS NewsHour.”  

“What we in journalism do, is in our way of a different kind of public service,” Woodruff said. “We are working every day to inform the American people so that they can make the best decisions.”  

Building trust and bridging divides 

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack introduced Woodruff, characterizing journalists as “defenders, promoters and preservers of our democracy,” while Sally Buzbee, executive editor of The Washington Post interviewed Woodruff about her work.  

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, presenting the Spirit of Service Award in the 2023 Service to America Medals awards ceremony.

Woodruff discussed her concerns over the lack of public trust in the federal government and how this negative perception adds an additional layer of pressure for the press to provide accurate, credible and trustworthy information from “as many different sides as possible.”  

“We have to do the best job we can right now of reporting the facts because I think our credibility hinges on that,” she said.  

Sally Buzbee, left, and Spirit of Service Honoree Judy Woodruff, right.

When it comes to choosing what topics to cover, Woodruff goes for “stories that we think might affect the most people” while recognizing that “stories that maybe not as many people know about … are just as impactful.”  

Her expertise comes not only from decades of experience reporting the news, but also from talking directly to people across the country.  

After leaving her job as the “PBS NewsHour” anchor last year, Woodruff began travelling around the U.S. to speak with ordinary people to see if “there are ways that people might be brought together even if their political views are different.” In an era of deep political polarization, these conversations are more vital than ever.  

“It is possible to work across the aisle and get things done for the American people,” she said.  

In closing, Buzbee praised Woodruff for being a trailblazer for women in journalism and called her an “inspiration in terms of thinking about our country and thinking about public service.”  

To learn more about our 2023 Service to America Medals winners and for a recap of the gala, read our recent blog post. To submit a Sammies nomination for 2024, visit 

Photo credit: Allison Shelley.

*Isalys De La Rosa is an intern at the Partnership’s communications team.

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