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The late Rev. Dr. George Edward Todd awarded medal by the Korean government

He’s being remembered for significant contributions to advance democracy in Korea

by the Rev. Unzu Lee | Special to the Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Dr. George Edward Todd (photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches)

SEOUL, South Korea — June 10 marked the anniversary of the start of protests for democracy that swept across the Republic of Korea in 1987.

This year on June 10, the Korean government recognized 29 people who made notable contributions to advancing democracy in Korea. Among them was the late Rev. Dr. George Edward Todd, who was awarded a Civil Merit Medal by the Republic of Korea (ROK). There were only two other awardees who were not Korean nationals.

Todd was ordained as an American Baptist minister in 1950 and was received into the Presbyterian Church in 1953. A recipient of the John Park Lee Prize for Outstanding Service in Social Ministry and Justice by the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) along with his wife Kathleen Lee Franklin Todd, who was an ardent advocate for justice in her own right, Todd left a life-long legacy of faithful living dedicated to promoting justice especially for the urban poor through writing, community organizing, and supporting various efforts in advocacy.

In the early 1960s, Todd became keenly aware of the tremendous challenges the urban poor were facing in industrializing South Korea. He went on to play an instrumental role in establishing the Yunsei University Urban Issue Center for the training of community organizers, with financial assistance from the Presbyterian Church and other entities.

Todd engaged in several efforts aimed at advancing democracy in Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, when South Korea was ruled by former military generals who came to power through military coups. In the process, Todd formed a very close relationship with the late Dae Jung Kim who later became President of ROK (1998-2003) and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2000. During Kim’s exile in the United States, Todd supported Kim’s cause for democracy in Korea by drawing on his connections with the PC(USA), the National Council of Churches, and civic organizations including the Wieboldt Foundation.

In recognition of his many contributions, Todd was awarded his Civil Merit Medal posthumously from the Korean Democratic Movement Memorial Foundation.

When Todd’s Korean friends learned of his death on January 14, 2019, they gathered in Korea for a memorial service. They remembered him again in 2021, nominating him for the recent award, and are rejoicing in the high recognition from the Korean government. The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in New York will be honoring the Todds’ legacies by bringing his Civil Merit Medal to his surviving family members in the near future.

A fifth-generation Presbyterian of Korean heritage who has served the PC (USA) as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament for 25 years, Unzu Lee currently serves as World Mission regional liaison for East Asia, focusing on Christian witness through ecumenical engagement in South Korea, North Korea, and Hong Kong. She provides support for partner churches, strengthens the work of mission personnel by providing guidance and pastoral care, and implements regional strategies. She works with global partners, the National Council of Churches in Korea, the Korea Christian Federation in North Korea, the Hong Kong Christian Churches, and the Ecumenical Forum for Korea, a worldwide collaborative endeavor of Christians for Korea peace and reconciliation.

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