Perhaps the most famous Minnesota politician of the past half-century has died.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale passed away Monday at age 93. He was also the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee and a longtime U.S. senator.
Mondale was born in the tiny southern Minnesota town of Ceylon, still today with a population under 400. His father was a Methodist minister, while his mother gave music lessons at local parishes.
After attending Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, Mondale served in the U.S. Army from 1951-53, before returning to Minneapolis for law school. He and his wife of nearly 60 years, Joan, had two sons and a daughter.
Mondale practiced law locally, then served as state attorney general before being selected in 1964 to replace Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the U.S. Senate. Mondale served 12 years, following his mentor’s path.
When Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter surprisingly won the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination, he sought the fellow small-town liberal as a “Northern presence” on the ticket. The duo carried the South, along with a few crucial northern states, winning 297 Electoral College votes to narrowly prevail over President Gerald Ford.
Carter called Mondale a “dear friend” in a Monday night statement, and said he considers him the “greatest vice president in our country’s history” and “an invaluable partner and an able servant to the people of Minnesota.”
Under Carter, Mondale was the first vice president to serve as a genuine partner of a president, with full access to intelligence briefings, a weekly lunch with Carter, and his own office near the president’s.
Following Carter’s trouncing at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Mondale secured the party’s nomination four years later.
His 1984 campaign, however, was no match for the popular president. At their second debate, the 73-year-old Reagan famously handled questions about his age, saying, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Mondale, who was 56, later said he believed his campaign ended right there. He was right. The challenger lost every state to the president, except for his native Minnesota — a 525-13 shellacking — amassing barely 40 percent of the popular vote.
The Star Tribune said Tuesday, ”Wry and unassuming, Mondale had an honest, down-to-earth approach that didn’t always serve him well as a candidate.”
Mondale went back to Minnesota to practice law, but returned to public service in 1993 when President Bill Clinton made him U.S. Ambassador to Japan for three years.
He briefly returned to electoral politics in 2002 when Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Mondale was defeated by Norm Coleman, the last time a Republican won a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.
In his final days, after sending a farewell note to hundreds of current and former staffers, he was reportedly inundated with phone calls.
Until his death, Mondale was the oldest living former vice president, a designation now belonging to 80-year-old Dick Cheney.
“Beyond his commitment to public service, our dad was committed to our family, and we will miss him more than words can capture,” the Mondale family said in a statement.
Memorials are planned in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.