Politics and Government

Remembering Walter Mondale

A man with glasses and gray hair smiles.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale listens to speakers during a dedication ceremony Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at the William O'Brien State Park in Marine on Saint Croix, Minn. Mondale was memorialized at the University of Minnesota on Sunday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated 7 a.m. Monday

President Joe Biden visited Minneapolis Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to former Vice President Walter Mondale. 

“He was one of the finest men you’ve known, one of the most decent people I’ve ever dealt with, and one of the toughest, smartest men I've ever worked with,” Biden said. “Among the greatest of all Americans.”

"Fritz was a giant in American political history," Biden said, recounting a friendship with Mondale that started when Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and lasted until a final phone call in Mondale’s last days. "Fritz was a master legislator who shone a light on those who needed it most."

Mondale died last year at age 93 following a career in which he also served as Minnesota attorney general, U.S. Senator, and ambassador.

He was a senator from Minnesota when Jimmy Carter chose him as his running mate in 1976.

In 1984 he was the Democratic candidate for president, but lost in a landslide as Ronald Reagan won a second term. 

Two couples greet the U.S. President upon arrival on the MSP tarmac
President Joe Biden, right, is greeted by St. Paul, Minn. Mayor Melvin Carter, far left, with his wife, Dr. Sakeena Futrell-Carter, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, as the president exits Air Force One, Sunday at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, on arrival to Minneapolis where he spoke at the memorial service for former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Jacquelyn Martin

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the memorial service, which is being held at the University of Minnesota. 

Biden credited Mondale with creating the model for the modern vice presidency, and recounted how he consulted with Mondale when Barack Obama asked him to consider being his running mate.

Several speakers at the memorial noted that Mondale made history when he became the first presidential nominee of either party to select a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate.

Along with Biden, a host of DFL politicians spoke at the service, including Gov. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith.

“Walter Mondale told the truth. He obeyed the law. He kept the peace,” Klobuchar said, echoing Mondale’s words written on the walls of the Carter presidential library. “He led the way. He set a high bar. And time after time he kept passing it and raising it, passing it and raising it.”

Klobuchar called Mondale a mentor and noted that her first job in Washington was as an intern in his office. The second, she noted, is the job she has now.

She said Mondale’s humility made him resilient, even in the face of losing a presidential or senate race.

"When saddled with enormous setbacks, Fritz didn't stand down. He stood up,” Klobuchar said. “Fritz didn't crawl under his desk or hide from public view. He simply found a different way to serve."

Mondale’s own mentor was Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who also served as vice president and was the Democratic nominee in 1968.

Smith managed Mondale's campaign for Senate in 2002, when Mondale was unsuccessful in holding the seat after Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash days before the election. 

Smith said over time, Mondale, a long time political hero of hers became a friend she'd often go to lunch with. Smith said many people who met Mondale said the same thing.

"‘Here's the thing. I really felt like I mattered to him.' And that was the thing about Walter Mondale, you did matter to him," Smith said.

Ted Mondale, Walter's son, thanked the speakers and guests, saying the memorial truly reflected his father - in the state he cared so much about.

"You all knew him. But you made it absolutely a service that he would have wanted,” Ted Mondale said. “He didn't want to lay in state. He didn't want to be in Washington. He wanted to be here with you."

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham spoke at the memorial as well.  

“There are children in America today who will not go hungry because of Fritz Mondale,” Meacham said. “There are Black people in America today who can vote and work and live more freely and fairly because of Fritz Mondale. There are women in America today who see no limit to their dreams because of Fritz Mondale.”

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