Actually, I never felt like I knew George McGovern well enough to call him by his first name. He probably wouldn’t have minded if I did but my respect and admiration for the man on so many levels would make such a familiar greeting akin to addressing the pope as Benny.
I, like most everybody, was really surprised that the Senator had entered hospice. He’s had some health issues lately but he’s 90 for cryin’ out loud. Plus he was just at the State Theater dedication for another beloved nonagenarian, Sylvia Henkin , and seemed frail but fine. The point is, we’re going to see and hear a lot about McGovern’s life and times in the days to follow; all of the accolades well deserved, of course.
I can only offer a few personal observations from our long association as reporter/politician.
Like a lot of people back then, I didn’t think so much about left or right, liberal or conservative. I just admired McGovern’s intellect, the fact that he was a World War II hero; he was close to the Kennedys and applied a common sense approach to complicated issues. I was proud that he was a fellow South Dakotan and had a lot of respect among his political peers in Washington and around the world..
I think a lot of the real George McGovern got lost in his 1972 presidential campaign. He listened to advice he maybe shouldn’t have like dumping Thomas Eagleton from the ticket after saying he wouldn’t. It made him look indecisive. He also embraced endorsements from the liberal Hollywood crowd which doesn’t always bode well among voters.
Plus to appreciate George McGovern, you have to hear him speak at length on issues which very few people did on the night he accepted the presidential nomination at two o’clock in the morning after most of the country had gone to bed.
I was shocked in 1980 when one of the most eloquent speakers in the country, McGovern, lost to Jim Abdnor..a good man but whose communication skills and power of persuasion seemed very limited. But, as Tom Daschle will tell you, South Dakota voters will send you packing if there’s the slightest perception that you’ve got above your rais’n.
Shortly after that election, I remember driving back to KELO on South Phillips Avenue and spotted the senator walking along on the sidewalk all by himself..no entourage..no reporters..alone on a brisk Autumn afternoon with his head down slightly. He looked more contemplative than defeated; as if he was pondering the chapters of his life so far with its victories and disappointments, all the while planning a strategy for his next role in public service which, as we all know, has been exemplary..reflecting his inherent compassion, diligence and effective statesmanship especially in the fight against world hunger.
Thanks to my job, I’ve had lots of chances to interview George McGovern. Each time, I told him who I was and each time he’d say, “I know who you are, Doug” and then ask about my bosses and colleagues down at KELO. He was always gracious and always brilliant no matter if we were talking about his war experiences, his latest book, the death of his daughter to alcoholism, his bi-partisan mission with Senator Bob Dole to provide decent school lunches for kids around the world or even skydiving in his eighties.
His departure from this world will leave a huge void in the hearts of millions around the globe, including me, who’ve been helped or enlightened by the wisdom and influence of this gentle preacher’s kid from South Dakota.