Las Vegas attorney Jim Jimmerson has received scads of awards, but today's award is "one of the most prestigious awards I've ever received because it's not just legal or professional, it's more like a lifetime achievement award."
He is in outstanding company. Over the years, this award has gone to presidents, entertainers, sports figures, politicians and others. Some names you would recognize, others you wouldn't.
To be nominated, they have to meet one of four criteria. Live a life dedicated to helping others; strive for tolerance and acceptance among ethnic, racial and religious groups; share their personal or professional gifts to benefit humanity; and preserve and celebrate the history, tradition and values of their ancestry group.
Jimmerson was nominated by a New York Supreme Court judge for his efforts in the first three criteria. For the last, he said, "I want to make history, not preserve it."
Some lawyers may be laughing right now. Jimmerson is known as a rough-and-tumble trial attorney whose work in divorce cases is renowned because he is an aggressive advocate. He has worked civil cases that have brought his clients millions of dollars. He and the late Morton Galane successfully sued NBC for defaming Wayne Newton.
Even he realizes most people don't see him as a humanitarian, though he is active in the University United Methodist Church, devotes more than 100 hours a year to pro bono work and is more active in community service than just attending rubber chicken dinners.
"Seventy-five percent of the people who know me respect me, and 25 percent wouldn't piss on my grave," he said from New York on Thursday.
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor award comes from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, and tonight, Jimmerson and 13 members of his family and friends will be feted at Ellis Island, the site where immigrants entered the United States for more than 100 years.
He has visited the island before as a student. "It grabs your heart. You look at the photos, and it's like the Holocaust Museum. It's stark, it's real, and it's very touching. You do have an emotional reaction."
About 1,000 people are nominated each year for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and as many as 100 are honored. The most famous of this year's group is actress Brooke Shields and singer Frankie Valli.
The medal winners had a private dinner for honorees and spouses Friday and tonight will have a black-tie event at the historic Ellis Island Great Hall, followed by fireworks in the New York Harbor.
"My parents brought me up to believe you receive more by giving more," Jimmerson said. His parents were very open-minded, and he said if you look at his employees, there is plenty of diversity, both in his law firm and in the company he and his wife, Carol, own: Executive Las Vegas Transportation.
Today, when immigration is practically a dirty word and some fail to discern the difference between legal and illegal immigration, Jimmerson embraces the ideals of the Statue of Liberty, which he can see tonight from Ellis Island.
As a reminder of what should be Americans' core beliefs, the poem Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 about Lady Liberty is worth sharing.
"The New Colossus"
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison