Friday, October 26, 2012
Former Senator McGovern mourned as man of decency, integrity
By David Bailey
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota (Reuters) - Former U.S. Democratic Senator George McGovern was a friend, a mentor, a role model and a soft-spoken family man, mourners said on Thursday as they celebrated the passionate opponent of the Vietnam war who was defeated in the 1972 presidential race.
McGovern, who was born and raised in South Dakota, died in Sioux Falls on Sunday at a hospice centre at age 90.
"George McGovern was a good and decent man," Vice President Joe Biden said at a prayer service in Sioux Falls for McGovern, whom he credited for giving him the courage to run for the U.S. Senate.
Biden said McGovern's call to end the war in Vietnam helped shape his political sensibilities more than anyone before or since. "I honest to God believed that I could maybe go help him end this war," Biden said. "I honest to God believed that."
McGovern suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in U.S. history in the 1972 election, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, against a well-oiled Republican political machine headed by Richard Nixon.
Later, as Nixon's presidency unravelled in the Watergate scandal, bumper stickers saying, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," and buttons saying "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern," appeared.
"What people don't realize, had your father not been there, had your father never been in the Senate, so much more blood and so much more treasure would have been wasted," Biden told McGovern's children.
Robert Duffett, president of Dakota Wesleyan University, said the university, the city of Mitchell and the state of South Dakota "lost a dear friend" who had an impact worldwide.
"George McGovern spoke truth to power," said Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the national finance director on McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.
McGovern was a mentor to many Democrats. His 1972 campaign workers included former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"When I think of George, I think of a man of uncompromising integrity who dedicated his life to serving our state and our country," said U.S. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota.
Before the prayer service a steady stream of mourners viewed McGovern in a flag-draped dark wood casket that was flanked by photographs of the senator and flowers.
The soft-spoken son of a Methodist minister, McGovern was a fierce advocate in the fight against world hunger who continued to give speeches and write until shortly before his death. He served in the Senate for South Dakota from 1963 to 1981.
The senator had "an uncommon sort of patriotism that was expressed with great integrity and eloquence and the courage of his convictions," Thomas Knock, a professor at Southern Methodist University who is writing a biography of McGovern, said in a telephone interview.
McGovern's legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to include the fight against world hunger, AIDS and other social issues.
McGovern's funeral was set for 1 p.m. on Friday at the Mary Sommervold Hall in the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science in Sioux Falls.