Dean Kamen

Llewellyn King: The case for American knighthoods

I may have a faded English accent, but I am a true blue American, and I have been for five decades. I do not think that everything that comes across the Atlantic from Britain ought to be adopted here.

I do not believe that there is any virtue in driving on the other side of the road. And I do not believe that every British television program is unassailably wonderful.

While I think that the House of Commons is a fabulous entertainment, but it is not necessarily the best way to govern the United Kingdom, particularly in this time of nationalist stress. I have lived in London, but I do not yearn to take up residence there again.

However, there is one feature of British life that I think would benefit the United States substantially: the introduction of an honors system to reward exemplary people in our society.

What titles we have in the United States are clung to. Former senators still call themselves senator; governors, governor; and ambassadors, ambassador. A few Ph.D.s persist in calling themselves Dr., and most people would like to have a title other than Mr., or Ms. in front of their name. Even firmly republican countries in Europe, like France and Italy, have clung to their aristocratic titles.

Well, we do not want an aristocracy here, but it would be grand if we could single out contributions to our well-being with a nifty title. Various eminent Americans have been awarded honorary titles, but they can not use them. What is the point of a title, if you can not call a restaurant and say, “Sir John Doe, here. I would like a table by the window.”

Here are some exceptional people who I would make honorary knights or dames:

Arise, Sir Brian Lamb, creator of C-SPAN and a massive contributor to television and the understanding of American politics.

Arise, Sir David Bell, a dedicated general practitioner, who treats victims of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, in the northwest corner of New York state. Bell has tended indigent patients since the disease broke out in the village of Lyndonville, N.Y., in 1985.

Arise, Sir Joe Madison (The Black Eagle), activist and broadcaster, who has championed the cause of justice for African-Americans and has fought modern slavery in Africa.

Arise, Dame Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony, who is a visionary conductor and a great contributor to the public good through her promotion of American music and classical music, her mentorship to young musicians, and her founding of OrchKids, a music education program for inner city Baltimore children.

Much of the British system of honorary titles should be left in Britain. Twice every year, on the Queen’s Birthday and at New Year, a list of new honorees is published, and long-serving but unrecognized civil servants and military personnel hope to be on the list. The types of honors include: Knights and Dames, The Order of the Bath, Order of St. Michel and St. George, Order of the Companions Honor, and Orders of the British Empire.

Just in case you are getting confused, these honors do not include the ancient titles of duke, marquess, earl or lord. But the monarch does mint a title now an again, like Her Highness Duchess of Cambridge, conferred on Prince William’s wife, Kate.

No, you have to keep the honorary title simple: knight or dame, awarded for exemplary achievement or service. On my honors list I would include distinguished people in the arts and sciences, educators, entrepreneurs and inventors, humanitarians, retired politicians (provided  that they promise not to run for office again). I think we should have Sir Bob Dole, Lady Olympia Snowe, and, if she were alive today, Lady Barbara Jordan.

On my watch list for recognition are Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Wynton Marsalis and Dean Kamen. If you would want to recognize someone in journalism, Sir Llewellyn King has a nice ring.

Llewellyn King ( is a long-time editor, writer, publisher and international business consult. He is also exeeutive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.