THREE-TIME PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Former Sen. McGovern near death in hospice
By David Bailey REUTERS
Former Democratic Sen. George McGovern, remembered for a devastating loss to Richard M. Nixon in the 1972 presidential election and for efforts to fight world hunger, was near death yesterday at a South Dakota hospice center, his family said.
McGovern, 90, was admitted to a hospice suffering from a combination of age-related medical conditions that have worsened in recent months, his family said in a statement. “The senator is no longer responsive,” the statement said. “He is surrounded by his loving family and close friends.”
McGovern, who served in the Senate from 1963 to 1981, challenged Nixon in 1972 on a platform opposing the war in Vietnam. He suffered one of the most-lopsided defeats in U.S. history, taking only 37.5 percent of the vote and carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Later, as Nixon’s presidency unraveled in the Watergate scandal, bumper stickers saying “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts” and buttons saying “Don’t blame me, I voted for McGovern” began to appear.
But McGovern’s legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to social issues including world hunger and AIDS, said Donald Simmons, director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D.
“Outside of the U.S., he is known for his real humanitarian efforts, and I think that will be one of his greatest long-term legacies,” Simmons said yesterday.
- McGovern, the son of a Methodist minister, flew combat missions over Europe as a B-24 bomber pilot during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1956 and re-elected two years later. After he lost a U.S. Senate election in 1960, President John F. Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program. He also ran for president in 1968 after the assassination of front-runner Robert F. Kennedy and made a short-lived bid for the Democratic nomination in 1984.
McGovern said he had moved on from his 1972 defeat, but 12 years later, another defeated Democratic presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, asked him how long it took to get over losing in a landslide. “I’ll let you know when I get there,” McGovern replied.
As a soft-spoken academic from South Dakota — he was a history and political-science professor at Dakota Wesleyan — and a decorated pilot, McGovern did not fit the model of many of the leaders of the antiwar movement of the 1960s and ’70s.
McGovern became a campaigner for world food issues in his post-politics life, often joining former Sen. Bob Dole in his work. He wrote several books, including an autobiography, the story of his daughter’s struggle with alcoholism, and What it Means to Be a Democrat, which was released last year.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.
Yesterday, his family encouraged people to donate to Feeding South Dakota ( http://www.feedingsouthdakota .org ) if they planned to offer remembrances.
McGovern and wife Eleanor, who died in 2007, had five children.
(McGovern, always a favorite and loved by so many was a noble and giving man. He will be missed. An academic, he was a professor as well as a distinguished warrior and servant to the country in government held positions. So often, it is the more informed people who choose to spend their final days within the comfort of “hospice” rather than the trauma of ICU or other hospital settings in some futile attempt to prolong this existence. It is a far superior surround for transition from this plane. What is needed is love, comfort and gentle release, not tubes, chemicals and denial. I know, been there done that. Jan)