Walter Mondale was an excellent, super lawyer.
Walter Mondale was a cut above others in the manner that he held high political offices.
Most off all, Walter Mondale was a super human being.
He had a lifelong love affair with wife Joan, until she passed away in 2014. He was a protective, close, loving without hovering father to Ted, Eleanor and Will.
Mondale was totally unpretentious. He was a down-to-earth guy to everyone everywhere. He lived in the same modest home in south Minneapolis from just after law school until his death.
He was a man of strong faith and even temperament. In all the years that I knew him, he was usually smiling, and I don’t remember him raising his voice or expressing anger.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune recognized Mondale’s “rich life devoted to public service."
"His worldview was inclusive and expansive, and he credited his faith with imbuing in him a deep respect for all people that was to guide his life in politics,” a story reads.
Not a lot is said or noted about Mondale’s role as an administrator. In addition to his other notable attributes, Mondale was a highly effective and standout administrator and boss. He was hesitant to take the job of attorney general when offered by Gov. Freeman in 1960, because of his lack of experience just four years out of law school.
After being persuaded to do so, he quickly surrounded himself with the very best lawyers for new appointments, gained the respect and loyalty of those in place, and rather quickly merged them all into one very effective large law firm with high morale throughout.
Mondale was appointed U.S. senator after Humphrey’s elevation in early 1965, and was elected and served two full terms thereafter. Of liberal bent, he effectively functioned bipartisan and with compromise to gain legislative enactments good for Minnesota and good for America.
A good example is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which he authored with neighboring Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson and steered through to enactment, now protecting 230 miles of the St. Croix and its tributaries.
In 1976, Mondale, the good boss and effective legislator, became the best possible employee. When Jimmy Carter became the Democratic nominee for president, he called upon Mondale to join him as vice president. Together they elevated the position to more of a co-presidency than underling status.
Jimmy Carter now says: “He was an invaluable partner and an able servant. Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior."
Another lesser known facet of Mondale was that of an astute and ethical businessman. After his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1984, he returned to Minnesota to practice business law with a prestigious Minneapolis firm and ended up quietly playing an influential role on Minnesota’s business scene.
He was an influential corporate board member and the impetus for establishing legal firms in the Orient. Doug Steenland , the former CEO of Northwest Airlines, said: “When he spoke everyone listened. He was very well respected and, at board dinners, he was a lot of fun.”
So much of what was said about Mondale has been said these past weeks. The following are small personal experiences and reflections.
Back in 1975, the potential candidates for president were touring the country and testing the waters. Among them were Walter Mondale and Henry “Scoop” Jackson from Washington state.
My mom, who was the least political member of our family, surprised me when she asked who I would be supporting for president in 1976. I said I was still supporting Humphrey. She said, “But he’s not running,” which proved true.
She then explained her dilemma. Our relatives from Seattle and Tacoma had written that we were shirttail relatives of Scoop Jackson. However, she thought she’d like to vote for that nice young man Mondale, who was a son of a minister and Norwegian too. And he had come over to shake her and Dad’s hands and talk to them at a bean feed in Pine River several years earlier.
I’ve used that ever since as an example of the importance of personal touch and acknowledgement, and how long lasting it is in effect.
The real highlights of my many years in partisan political experience were the times I got to spend one on one or in small groupings with Mondale. Most memorable were the national conventions, starting in 1968 when Mondale was trying to influence Humphrey toward a more anti-Vietnam position.
It became a personal tradition to get one night on the convention floor sitting with Mondale. One of those times that I remember quite well was with state Sen. Roger Moe, also next to Mondale. It was three aging Norwegians on the convention floor, reminiscing and sharing Sven and Ole jokes between convention votes and speeches.
The most memorable of all was in 2004, when Mondale was elected Minnesota national delegation chair. He made me his assistant, so I got to spend five days in Boston with him for large chunks of each day, running morning delegation meetings, informal day delegation matters and working with him on the convention floor each night.
The last time that I saw him was a year and a half ago. After a small meeting, he invited me to a leisurely lunch at Murrays. He said it would be my turn to buy next time. Then there were a couple calls about the 2020 national convention that never took place.
And, that was it. There never was a next time.
It was a privilege to know him - an ode to Fritz.