HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will keynote the Newhouse School’s Toner Prize Award ceremony March 28 in Washington, D.C.

By Wendy S. Loughlin

March 25, 2013

The nation’s top health official—Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—will be the keynote speaker at the award ceremony for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting on March 28 in Washington, D.C.

The Toner Prize, which is sponsored by the Newhouse School, honors the life and work of the late Robin Toner ’76, the first woman to be national political correspondent for The New York Times.



“Secretary Sebelius brings a particular richness to this celebration, because Robin’s twin journalistic passions were health care policies and politics,” says Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham. Toner was an alumna of the Newhouse School.  “It’s an honor to have as our speaker a woman of such great achievement as Secretary Sebelius. This makes certain that our celebration will capture Robin’s spirit.”

This is the third year of the national competition to award the Toner Prize. The prize carries a $5,000 award. This year’s winner will be announced at the ceremony. Past winners were Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

Sebelius was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to head the Department of Health and Human Services. She now oversees implementation of the Obama administration’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The law overhauls the nation’s health care system to expand health insurance coverage to 34 million uninsured Americans and seeks to restrain the rise of health care costs.

Sebelius came to the Obama cabinet with an extensive background in politics and health care policy. From 1987 to 1995, she was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives. From 1995 to 2003, she was Kansas’ Insurance Commissioner. In 2003, she was elected Kansas’ governor and held that office until her appointment as secretary of health and human services. 

Sebelius is also the first daughter of a governor to be elected governor in her own right. Her father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio from 1971 to 1975. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree from Trinity Washington University. She is married to Gary Sebelius, a federal magistrate judge. They have two sons, John and Ned, and a daughter-in-law, Lisa.

As health and human services secretary, Sebelius also heads emergency health responses, including the earthquake in Haiti, the Gulf oil spill and the tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo.

Forbes magazine has called Sebelius one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

Robin Toner was a summa cum laude graduate of Syracuse University with dual degrees in journalism and political science. She started her journalism career in West Virginia with the Charleston Daily Mail and reported for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was married to fellow journalist Peter Gosselin, now with Bloomberg Government. She was the mother of twins, Nora and Jacob.

In her nearly 25 years with The Times, she covered five presidential campaigns, scores of Congressional and gubernatorial races and most of the country's major political and policy issues. She was The Times’ lead reporter on the 1992 presidential election of Bill Clinton and one of its most authoritative journalists covering health-care policy and politics. Toner’s work was distinguished by her expertise and insight, by her meticulous fact-checking and accuracy and by her elegant writing.

The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy described Toner as “a reporter’s reporter who deeply cared about the people and the issues she covered.”

Robin Toner died in December 2008. Her family, friends and classmates have created the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School to honor her life and work.

For more information, contact Charlotte Grimes at 315-443-2366 or cgrimes@syr.edu.

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