MPR News with Angela Davis

Power Pairs: Former Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and polar explorer Ann Bancroft

two women with arms around each other smiling at camera
Polar explorer Ann Bancroft (left) and former Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm at an Ann Bancroft Foundation event at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s. The women have been friends for 40 years.
Courtesy Ann Bancroft

Forty years ago, Ann Bancroft and Jan Malcolm met on a basketball court and became close friends. 

That was long before Malcolm went on to serve as Minnesota Health Commissioner under three Minnesota governors and guide the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was also before Bancroft became the first woman to reach the North Pole by foot with dog sled and inspire people around the world through her polar expeditions.

During their long and close friendship, the two women have supported each other through intense challenges, weathered personal loss and encouraged each other to follow their dreams.

MPR News host Angela Davis talks with Ann Bancroft and Jan Malcolm as part of her Power Pairs series.


  • Ann Bancroft is an adventurer, author and teacher. She was the first woman to reach the

    two woman smiling at camera making hearts with hand signs
    MPR News host Angela Davis (right) and polar explorer Ann Bancroft in an MPR News studio in St. Paul on Monday, flashing a playful greeting at the camera for former Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm who joined the live radio conversation remotely from home as she recovered from COVID-19.
    Maja Beckstrom | MPR News

    North Pole on foot with dog sleds with a group in 1986. She was also the first woman, with Norwegian adventurer Liv Arnesen, to ski across Antarctica.  She’s completed a number of other expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, inspiring school children and drawing attention to global warming. She’s also the founder of the Ann Bancroft Foundation.   

  • Jan Malcolm retired as Minnesota’s health commissioner at the end of 2022, after serving under Governor Tim Walz and guiding the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was appointed as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health in 2018 by Gov. Mark Dayton and also served in the role under Gov. Jesse Ventura. She was also vice president at Allina Health and CEO of Courage Center and was the chief architect of the state’s safety net insurance program MinnesotaCare while working at HealthPartners in the early 1990s.    

two women on a stage
Former Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm (left) next to Ann Bancroft after receiving the Ann Bancroft Foundation's Impact Award on April 28 at The Depot in Minneapolis.
Courtesy Ann Bancroft | 2022

Do you know a Power Pair? Send us your suggestion. We’re talking with prominent Minnesotans you may recognize and who also have a close relationship with each other.

Maybe they’re married. Maybe they’re siblings. Or maybe they are just good friends. We want to sit them down together and learn about their relationship.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.  

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.   

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News