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Gary native, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and retired Proctor & Gamble CEO, wins Horatio Alger Award

Gary native Robert A. McDonald, a former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and retired Proctor & Gamble CEO, won the prestigious Horatio Alger Award.

Gary native Robert A. McDonald grew up in a small home across from the Grand Calumet River and U.S. Steel's Gary Works mill. He went on to ascend to the heights of the corporate world and the halls of power in Washington D.C. 

McDonald's rise from humble origins to CEO of the Fortune 50 consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble and then to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs will be recognized with a 2020 Horatio Alger Award.

The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is a nonprofit named for the 19th century American writer Horatio Alger, who has become synonymous with his many rags-to-riches tales. The association is recognizing 14 people who overcame adversity to become successful, as part of its mission to "honor the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education."

“I am humbled to receive such a prestigious award from an organization that I respect so deeply,” McDonald said. “To be joining the ranks of Horatio Alger’s impressive list of members is a true honor, but I am most looking forward to meeting the outstanding students the association supports. I know hard work, but I also know hardship — and they do, too. I hope my story can inspire them to push through life’s challenges to chase their dreams.”

McDonald "learned grit from a young age while witnessing how hard his parents worked to provide for their family," according to a news release. His father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the occupation of Japan and attended college on the G.I. Bill. 

McDonald followed in his father's footsteps, studying at West Point and becoming a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger infantry officer.

He went on to work for Procter & Gamble for 33 years, working his way to becoming CEO and chairman of the board. The multinational giant is known for iconic American brands like Tide, Pampers, Luvs, Gain, Bounty, Charmin, Tampax, Head and Shoulders, Old Spice, Febreze, Mr. Clean, Gillette, Braun, Vicks, Pepto Bismol and Pantene.

In 2014, President Barack Obama appointed him to the cabinet position of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He ran the department for three years.

“Through his selfless service to our country and the way in which he expertly led Procter & Gamble through decades of immense growth and change, Robert McDonald embodies the values that define our organization,” said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director of the Horatio Alger Association. “In addition to this, he and his wife have a decorated history of philanthropy and I know he will become an active and involved member upon his induction in April.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.