THE OTHER DAY, President Bush bestowed the National Medal of Technology on seven individuals. One in particular -- W. Lincoln Hawkins -- deserves special mention not because of any connection to Baltimore, but because of his efforts to guide minorities everywhere toward fields in science and engineering.
Mr. Hawkins, who is black, is credited with devising light and durable plastic insulations for telephone wires that made universal telephone service economical in post-World War II America. Employed by Bell Laboratories for 34 years, Mr. Hawkins' work was granted 18 U.S. and 129 foreign patents. The medal bestowed him was in recognition of those accomplishments.
An equally great achievement has been the work Mr. Hawkins focused on after retirement. Encouraging blacks and other minorities to enter fields that depressingly few have ever considered is a monumental contribution, one which Mr. Hawkins has made through example. A sense of wonderment is evident in his stated desire as a young man to "get out there and make some of those crazy things you think of work."
As the first black hired at Bell Labs, Mr. Hawkins could look with some satisfaction on the fact that there were 10 black scientists at Bell by the time he turned 70. Today, at 81, he is a pioneer and a living legend that deserves the respect of us all, regardless of race.