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Former State Rep. Charles Siler, who served two notable stints in the Kentucky General Assembly before retiring in 2010 as one of Frankfort's most respected lawmakers, has been named recipient of the 2011 Vic Hellard Jr. Award for excellence in public service.

The Hellard Award, the highest honor the Legislature can bestow, has been given annually since 1997. Siler -- known to all as Charlie -- was chosen for this year's honor by the 16-member legislative leadership that comprises the Legislative Research Commission.

The award's namesake, Vic Hellard Jr., was executive director of the LRC staff for 19 years. The honor goes each year to someone who embodies the values that Hellard brought to his long career: A public servant of vision, appreciating history while finding new ways to do things, someone who champions the equality and dignity of all, nurtures the processes of a democratic society and promotes public dialogue while educating and fostering civic engagement, approaching that work with commitment, caring, generosity, and humor.

In announcing Siler's selection, LRC co-chairs David L. Williams, President of the Senate, and Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the House, noted that he met all those criteria perfectly.

They remembered Siler as a quietly passionate voice for the people of his beloved Laurel and Whitley counties, and a leader of vision, heart and good humor who made life better for all Kentuckians, whether they knew his name or not.

'I'm honored, I'm touched, and I accept this award humbly,' Siler said. 'Vic Hellard was a special man, and this is a special award, even more so since it's given to me by my respected colleagues.'

Siler's civic career was historically remarkable, spanning national and even world history. His military career alone traced the narrative arc of the last half if the 20th Century. It began with the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. He served in occupied Japan. He served in the Korean War. He was with the troops protecting Dr. Martin Luther King's Civil Rights march on Montgomery in the 1960s.

When his long military career ended, he returned to Kentucky, and ran for office to help shape his home state's history.

As a representative from District 82 and a Republican, he was a voice for veterans and a voice for labor, but his greatest passion was education. He voted for the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 though he knew the tax increase to pay for it would likely get him beat next election -- and did.

But four years later, Siler's district sent him back to Frankfort, where he served till he retired in 2010.

His tenure in the House was called by one observer a study in thoughtful, courageous representation. When he came back from his years out of office, Siler voted for 1997's higher education reform, another politically difficult vote on principle.

But he said it was critical for community colleges to better prepare Kentuckians for the new 21st Century workplace, and for universities to answer the call for citizens of exceptional preparation to prosper in a complex world.

Siler is the 15th recipient of the Vic Hellard Jr. award, and only the third former legislator (Romano Mazzoli, a former state Senator and Congressman, won in 2009, and former state Sen. Walter Baker in 2003).

Hellard himself died in 1996, a year after his retirement from the LRC. The award in his name has been given annually since.