President Biden’s Eulogy of Walter Mondale

On May 1, 2022, President Joe Biden traveled to Minneapolis to deliver his eulogy of Walter Mondale at the latter’s memorial service. Here are the highlights of the President’s remarks. [1]

“I’m moved to be with you here today  . . .[to] honor one of the great giants in American history.  And that’s not hyperbole.  Fritz was a giant in American political history.”

“I speak of a friend of five decades, about . . . the light of [our] friendship and what it meant to me personally, to my family.”

“Fritz and I first met in one of the darkest moments of my life. [After I had been elected for the first time to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and before I was sworn in,] I was at the U.S. Senate on December 18th to hire staff when I received a phone call from my fire department in Delaware [and was told,] ‘You got to come home.  There’s been an accident. . . .Your wife and daughter are dead, and your two boys may not make it.’  Fritz and Joan . . . embraced me and came to the hospital to see my boys.  They [and others] helped me find my purpose in a sea of darkness and pain. [They urged me to stay in the Senate for at least six months and then decide whether to stay in the Senate or not.]”

“My life changed again five years later.  No man deserves one great love in his life, let alone two, but I met and married Jill Biden.  I had to ask her five times. But being a spouse of a Senator who was relatively well known, because of the celebrity of how I got there and the accident, and inheriting two beautiful young boys wasn’t easy.”

“Once again, Fritz and Joan were there spreading the light.  Joan was one of the first people to reach out to Jill, and it meant the world to us.”

“Fritz was a master legislator who shone a light on those who needed it most.  The desire to lift up others stemmed from his youth, from his service as a corporal in the U.S. Army, and those early days organizing for Hubert Humphrey in parts of Minnesota that Democrats didn’t win.”

“Fritz learned early the power of bringing people together.  And I know for Fritz, no moment was brighter than when he joined forces with an African American senator from Massachusetts, Senator Edward Brooke, and they passed the Fair Housing Act. When the Act passed, Fritz spoke on the Senate floor [and said,] ‘The words ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ will mean more to millions of our fellow Americans [today with this legislation]. That was Fritz spreading . . . the light of our country, to families who had never truly known its warmth.”

“At every stage of our lives, at every inflection point, Fritz and Joan . . . were there for Jill and me and my family —on a personal level.”

“In 2008 Barack Obama called me after it was clear he was the de facto nominee and said he’d liked me to join him on the ticket, at least consider it; could he do a background check on me.  And I said, ‘No thanks, Barack.’ [But he said,] ‘there’s only one other person I’m considering.’  I said, ‘Barack, I don’t want to be Vice President.’  He said, ‘Why?’  I said, ‘Because [the VP is] basically just standby equipment. I can help you a lot more as a senator.  I’ll do everything I can.  I’ll campaign throughout the country for you.’”

Barack responded, ‘Look, would you go home and talk it over with your family?  Just talk it over.’”

“So I did.  I called Jill from the train on my cell phone. And when I got home, .. . the first person I called was Fritz before the family gathered in the back porch.  And I asked, ‘Fritz, what should I do?’  And he went into great detail. As a matter of fact, he sent me a long memorandum he prepared for President Carter when they were deciding how their relationship would work. He told me, in essence, that the vice presidency holds no inherent power.  None.  Zero.  The Vice President is merely — and it’s true — a reflection of your relationship with the President of the United States.”

“About seven years ago, I joined Fritz at a forum in his honor at George Washington University.  Fritz recounted that his greatest strength wasn’t his expertise in a particular policy area; it was the genuine personal relationship he built with President Jimmy Carter — a relationship built on real affection and trust.They sat down for lunch together every week.  Fritz said to me, ‘Make sure you get a commitment from Barack: Once a week, you have lunch to discuss whatever is on either of your minds.’”

“He was the first Vice President to have an office in the West Wing, just a few steps away from the Oval Office.”

“That was the true strength of the vice presidency, he said, a strength that Barack and I replicated in our time in office and what Kamala and I are doing today.  And she sends her regards to the whole family.  She called me before I got in the plane.”

“It was Fritz who lit the way.  [At] his core, Fritz embraced everybody with a belief that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity — everybody.  Dignity.  Not just the right to vote, dignity.”

“He was loved by the American people because he reflected the goodness of the American people, especially the people of Minnesota. You know, every senator wears on his or her sleeve the state they serve.  But the love Fritz had for the people of Minnesota ran deeper than that.  He loved you all, and you loved him back — it was obvious — because Fritz reflected the very best qualities of this state: the warmth and optimism that you reflect.”

“At every turn, Fritz reflected the light of this nation, who we are and what we can be.  He called me [after] I had said [at my] inauguration that we’re the most unique nation in all of history.  We’re the only nation founded on an idea.  Every other nation in the world is based on geography, ethnicity, religion, race.  We’re founded on an idea.  ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.’  And it goes on.”

“Fritz believed that in his gut.  I watched him every day for over 35 years in the Senate and when he was Vice President.  He united people, sharing the same light, the same hopes.  Even when we disagree, he thought that was important.”

“I’ll never forget, on a personal level, what it meant to have a friend like Fritz.  Less than four years after losing Eleanor to brain cancer and just a year after losing Joan, Fritz was there to help me again when Jill and I lost our son Beau to brain cancer after a year in Iraq.”

“I’ll never forget how Fritz reflected so much love and light into our family — again, at our darkest moments — nor will I forget coming here to Minneapolis eight years ago to say goodbye to Joan.”

“Most of you remember that Fritz went to the Mayo Clinic for quadruple bypass the very next day.  He had delayed the surgery so he could be with all of us to reflect her light.  And he put off treating his own heart because, as all you know, his heart belonged to Joan.”

“As I’ve said many times — I say to the family, seeing your mom and dad together reminded me of that great line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem: ‘Come live with me and be my love, and we shall all the pleasures prove.’ You can tell when a couple has been together a long time.  So each looks at the other with love — deep love.”

“It’s been said that memory is the power to gather roses in winter.  Well, Ted and William, your dad blessed you with an endless garden of those memories and, most of all, the memory of two extraordinary loves: a love of more than 58 years he spent together with your mom, and a love of 51 years with your sister, Eleanor. In his farewell letter, Fritz wrote that he was eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor, two unbreakable loves.”

“Jill Biden wanted to do a garden at the Vice President’s Residence so that every family that ever had lived there would have stones [engraved with the names of] the couple and their children. When I called Fritz to tell him about it, he came over to the [White House]. He asked if he could go inside.  I said, ‘Of course.’  He wanted to walk up to the third floor. [There he] stopped in front of a door and opened it and just stared.  After  a few minutes, he came down and said, ‘That was Eleanor’s room.  I so miss her.’”

“Well, they’re all together now, for all time.”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, ‘An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.’ There is no doubt that the institution of the Senate and the institution of the Vice President reflect the profound legacy of Fritz Mondale. But it’s not a lengthened shadow; it’s his light.  And it’s up to each of us now to reflect that light that Fritz was all about, to reflect Fritz’s goodness and grace, the way he made people feel no matter who you were.”

“Just imagine what our nation could achieve if we followed Fritz’s example of honor, decency, integrity, literally just the service to the common good.  There would be nothing — nothing, nothing, nothing beyond our reach.”

“I hope we all can be Fritz’s mirror, continue to spread his light.  Because you know he was one of the finest men you’ve ever known, one of the most decent people I ever dealt with, and one of the toughest, smartest men I’ve ever worked with.”

“You were lucky to have had him.  Look at things, he was lucky to have had you.”

“God bless you, my dear friend.  Among the greatest of all Americans.”

“The highest compliment, my Grandfather Finnegan used to say, you can give a man or a woman — he was a good man.”

“Fritz Mondale was a good man.”

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[1] Remarks by President Biden at the Memorial Service of Vice President Walter Mondale, White House (May 2, 2022); Memorial Service for Walter Mondale, dwkcommentaries.com (May 4, 2020).

 

Memorial Service for Walter Mondale 

On May 1, 2022, a memorial service for Walter “Fritz” Mondale was held at the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium. He had died on April 19, 2021, but a service at that time was not possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his son, Ted, said his father “didn’t want to lie in state; he didn’t want to be in Washington, he wanted to be here with you” because “you reflected what he would care about and who he is.”[1]

Remarks at the Service

Remarks at this service were provided by U.S. President Joe Biden, former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel, Larry Jacobs (the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota), Jon Meacham (the Robert M. Rogers Chair in the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University), Josie Johnson (Minnesota civil rights icon), Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen (senior pastor at Mondale’s Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian) and Mondale’s sons, Ted and William. (Some of these comments will be contained in subsequent posts.)

Similar comments were voiced by others in the Washington Post.[2]

The Song “Tomorrow”[3]

The song “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie,” one of Mondale’s favorite songs, was sung at the memorial service by 14-year-old Lillian Hochman from Hopkins, Minnesota. She had met Mondale when she was in preschool with his granddaughter and subsequently joined her family for weekend breakfasts with Mondale while he followed her budding stage career with Minneapolis’ Children’s Theater Company. Although he was out of town when she performed in “Annie” in 2017, he told her that the show was his favorite.

Lillian is pretty sure she knows why this song was a favorite for Mondale. She said the title character in the show sings this song to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, promising that despite the Great Depression, “the sun’ll come out tomorrow.” The song is “really about bringing hope to a nation and to the president, which I think is one reason for it’s [being Mondale’s] favorite song and show.”

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[1] Bierschbach & Nelson, Leaders, family and friends remember “Fritz” Mondale, StarTribune (May 1, 2022); Vice President Walter F. Mondale ’56 Eulogized at Memorial Service at Northrup, University of Minnesota (May 1, 2022); Remarks by President Biden at the Memorial Service of Vice President Walter Mondale, White House (May 2, 2022); Baker, Biden Extols Mondale as ‘One of the Great Giants of American History,’ N.Y. Times (May 1, 2022); Regan & Viser, Biden pays tribute to friend and mentor Walter Mondale, Wash. Post (May 1, 2020); Mena, Biden Honors Walter Mondale at Memorial, W.S.J. (May 1, 2022); Klobuchar Delivers Remarks At Memorial Service for Former Vice President Walter Mondale (May 1, 2022); Excerpts from speeches and letters read at Walter Mondale’s memorial service, StarTribune (May 2, 2022); Read presidential historian Jon Mecham’s remarks at Walter Mondale’s memorial service, StarTribune (May 2, 2022).

[2] Mannes, Analysis: Her’s what Kamala Harris owes to Walter Mondale, Wash. Post (April 25, 2021); Balz, Mondale lost the presidency but permanently changed the office of vice presidency, Wash. Post (April 19, 2021); Tumulty, Opinion: Walter Mondale reinvented the vice presidency. Both Biden and Harris should thank him for it, Wash. Post (April 19, 2021).

[3] Hewitt, ‘Annie’ star sang tribute to family friend Walter Mondale at memorial, StarTribune (May 2, 2022).