Artists and politicians alike are remembering Joan Mondale with gratitude today. The long-time advocate for the arts and wife of former vice president Walter Mondale died yesterday afternoon at the age of 83.
President Barack Obama noted Mondale filled the vice presidential mansion with art from many then-unknown artists. She served on national arts councils as well as the boards of many local arts groups. Mondale was a potter herself.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar described two handmade mugs from Mondale that sit on her kitchen table. And former president Jimmy Carter called her a source of stalwart strength and inspiration to her family, and to him, and to all who knew and loved her.
MPR News host Phil Picardi spoke this morning with a man who knew the late Joan Mondale and her family very well. Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen is the senior pastor at Mondale's church, Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
PHIL PICARDI: You were with the Mondale family in Joan's final hours. How are they doing?
REV. TIM HART-ANDERSEN: Joan Mondale has been described as a person of strength --- it was clear in those final days, her family drew on that strength and drew together close around her, and loved her tenderly 'til the end and said farewell in a very quiet and peaceful way.
PICARDI: The Mondale family has lived a very public life for decades here in Minnesota. What was Joan's role in the life of a very busy and accomplished public-facing family?
HART-ANDERSEN: Joan was in a way kind of the core of the family. She was stability for the family. She was savvy politically and engaged in the campaigns over the years in many ways. But at her core, her goal was to keep the family close, to keep the family together, and she did that very well. This is a family that loved one another through thick and thin, and you know they did have ups and downs as a family, and Joan was very much the person who held the family together.
PICARDI: How do you sum up the contribution that Joan Mondale made to the Twin Cities and to Minnesota?
HART-ANDERSEN: Joan Mondale was loved in many ways. She was a volunteer in the community, served on many boards around town and around the state, she left her legacy, her mark in lots of different ways across Minnesota, but especially of course in the area of arts. Every time I ride the light rail, for instance, I get off at a stop, I notice the art work there by local artists and I think about Joan Mondale. She was the chair of the group that chose, selected the art for the light rail stops. She was involved at Macalester College for a long time in St. Paul. Of course her father was a chaplain there for many, many years, and she was a board member there. And I'm also a board member there, and enjoyed serving with Joan on that board of trustees. I remember her insistence that the college not only build buildings, but build buildings with art in them and around them. One percent of all construction dollars raised at Macalester now are devoted to art, thanks to Joan Mondale.
PICARDI: Why did art mean so much to Joan Mondale?
HART-ANDERSEN: I think it was something in her spirit, innate in her. I would say she had kind of an artistic gift. Of course she was an artist herself, and not just a connoisseur, but a practitioner. It was part of her core of her being --- to see the world through the eyes of an artist. And how fortunate we were to connect, that she was able to connect that with a partner in life who would allow her and them together to bring those gifts and art to a larger public audience.
PICARDI: You have ministered to this family during some sad times. Did Joan Mondale ever recover from losing her daughter Eleanor in 2011 after a long struggle with cancer?
HART-ANDERSEN: That was obviously a devastating blow to Joan and to the whole family. Any parent who loses a child in some ways never recovers. A day doesn't go by when a parent doesn't think of a child, and I think that was true for Joan, and of course for "Fritz" [Walter] and Eleanor's brothers Ted and William. That was a sad, difficult time for them, in a way it was a bit of a turning point, I think, in Joan's life in terms of her health. I think it also was a time that drew the family closer. A tragic loss like that does something to a family, and sometimes it drives people apart. In this case though, it drew them together. Chan, Eleanor's husband, was very much a part of the family, surrounding Eleanor with love in these last few days, and was there yesterday as well.
PICARDI: Both Joan and "Fritz" [Walter] Mondale are the children of ministers. Did their faith influence their public lives very much?
HART-ANDERSEN: Absolutely. Fritz grew up as the son of a Methodist preacher, and Joan of course a Presbyterian minister who was a chaplain at Macalester. Fritz readily agreed to come over to the Presbyterian side when they married, and I would say their entire lives were built upon a foundation of faith. This was faith that was concerned about the public good, about the common good. Both their fathers came out of a mainstream, mainline tradition of American Protestant life. It was oriented toward public ministry, toward sacrifice, and toward commitment to those who were less fortunate. It was a deep faith but not just about the afterlife or what was to come beyond what was happening now.
PICARDI: And finally, did you have an experience with Joan Mondale that will be your enduring memory of her?
HART-ANDERSEN: You know, I have lots of different experiences I think of when I think of Joan. But one of them, I guess has to do with my wife, my wife Beth when we first moved here 15 years ago from San Francisco. We had just settled in Minneapolis and I was just getting started at Westminster, and knew the Mondales were members, hadn't really gotten to know them yet. And my wife Beth was shopping in the Rainbow store in uptown, and kind of lost in the aisles, first time in the store, and she heard a voice behind her saying, "Hi, Beth! Hi, Beth! Can I help you?" And turned around, and it was Joan Mondale, the wife of the former vice president who proceeded to help her do her shopping in Rainbow. It was the kind of person she was. She was gracious, and kind, and willing to help others. Just a marvelous human being.
PICARDI: Revend Hart-Anderson, thanks for your insights and sharing your memories this morning.
HART-ANDERSEN: You're welcome.