Remarks offered at the funeral of former Senator George McGovern on October 26, 2012
When Eleanor Roosevelt died, Adlai Stevenson said, -I lost more than a friend - I lost an inspiration.- That's the way I feel today.
Deep down I know George McGovern is in a better place. He's with Eleanor; he's with Terry and Steve. Who knows - he may even be President.
But for so many of us it is difficult to say good-bye. It was always comforting to know he was around—reminding us we can do better. Making it seem possible that we could end all wars, eliminate hunger and poverty, and create a world where all God's children are respected, valued and loved.
In 1972, as a 7th grader in Massachusetts, I did what I could to elect him President of the United States. I will remind you all - he did win Massachusetts!
I later was an intern in his Senate office. I had the privilege to work with the incredible staff he assembled in Washington and South Dakota - some of the finest people I have ever known.
We weren't related - it was just a coincidence that we both had the same last name. But people would often tell me that they were long-time supporters of my Dad. They always seemed a little shocked when I told them my dad owns a liquor store in Worcester, Massachusetts. I urged them to keep supporting him!
For 35 years I have been honored to call Senator McGovern my most treasured friend. And I loved him very much.
George McGovern was a great man, but more importantly he was a very, very good one.
He had about him a kind of bedrock decency. He was generous and kind. He was funny. He lacked pretension and had no patience for cynicism. He was passionate and principled, but not dogmatic or self righteous.
He loved his family and his friends; he loved his faith; he loved American history, big Newfoundland dogs, and a good steak; he loved this great state of South Dakota - and My God, did he love his country.
Even after the 1972 campaign, even after losing 49 states, even after losing his Senate seat in 1980, he maintained his optimism, his faith in democratic government, his belief that America's best days were always ahead.
Through intellect and drive and education he became a war hero, a PhD, a congressman, a senator, an ambassador, and the presidential nominee of his party. But he wasn't a -don't you know who I am- kind of guy. We can all hear him now, in that slow, precise cadence, saying to someone who knew perfectly well who he was, -You know Fred, I ran for President against Richard Nixon in 1972.-
Which is not to say he was without pride. This is a man who jumped out of an airplane at the age of 88, for Pete's sake. And while he did so to raise awareness on the issue of childhood hunger, I think he also wanted to prove that the old pilot of the Dakota Queen still had a little of that fearless fly-boy in him.
He had a way with words - -Come home, America- and -Don't throw away your conscience.- He was eloquent and moving. But his actions were even more powerful.
There are millions and millions all around the world who are being fed, who are not starving to death, and who have hope because of George McGovern's actions.
Perhaps because he witnessed firsthand the horrors of war, because he knew its costs, he was a tireless champion for peace. Not because he blindly opposed all wars, but because he knew that war always represents a failure of human imagination. Even when some had the audacity to question this war hero's patriotism, he refused to accept old men dreaming up new wars for young men to die in.
To Ann, Susan, and Mary—and to all the grandchildren - thank you for sharing him with us, even though I know it wasn't always easy.
To the people of South Dakota, thank you for giving our nation and the world this incredible public servant.
As his colleague, Senator William Fulbright said late in the 1972 campaign, he wanted a McGovern presidency QUOTE -because George is such an ordinary man…I don't mean ordinary in any negative sense, but the presidency was designed for ordinary men - not for a succession of so many larger-than-life men on horseback. If George McGovern were president he wouldn't stand for a CIA or FBI pushing people around the way they do now, or the Pentagon building and buying what it pleased. He wouldn't stand for price fixing or these outrages against people who work for wages and pay their taxes. And you can be damned sure he wouldn't try to prove his manhood by prolonging a war that shouldn't have been started in the first place. It's a damned shame all this has happened to George, because I don't know how long it will be until we have a President who feels like that.-
He was right. Our great country missed an incredible opportunity in 1972.
But even though George McGovern lost that election, that loss is not his legacy.
Right now there's a family in Camden, New Jersey that can put food on their table. That's his legacy. There's a little girl in Malawi who's never heard the name -George McGovern- who has enough to eat and is getting an education. That's his legacy. There's a young man in California or Colombia or Kenya committed to peace and justice because of his inspiration. That's his legacy.
And it is up to us - to each and every one of us - to carry that legacy forward.