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Obama praises 'moral titan' Desmond Tutu on his retirement

By Becky Brittain, CNN White House Producer
  • Desmond Tutu "an unrelenting champion of justice," president says in written statement
  • Obama praises Tutu's role in ending apartheid, paving way for reconciliation
  • Tutu's retirement coincides with his 79th birthday, celebration in South Africa

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama congratulated Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his official retirement, praising him for the extensive list of accomplishments in his decades-long career.

"For decades he has been a moral titan -- a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice, and a dedicated peacemaker," Obama said in a written statement.

The president praised Tutu for his crucial role in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement and reconciliation. The archbishop has also been involved in speaking out on issues such as gay rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, and freedom and justice around the world.

"We will miss his insight and his activism, but will continue to learn from his example," Obama added.

Tutu's retirement coincides with his 79th birthday on Thursday and plans to celebrate with a private party in Cape Town, South Africa, his hometown. He announced in July that he would scale back his schedule and do less travel for public appearances.

Obama awarded Tutu the Congressional Medal of Freedom in August 2009 for his stand against apartheid in South Africa and for chairing the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The two men first met in 2006 when Obama, a senator at the time, visited Tutu in South Africa during an African tour.