Jerry Arnold loved his work, and he did it right up to the end.
The former Duluth attorney and county prosecutor spent decades at the intersection of law and politics, ranging from a run for Congress to his later years as a workers’ compensation judge.
His career culminated in his nomination by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, which he did for five years under Reagan and President George H.W. Bush.
Arnold died Thursday at his home on Schultz Lake, north of Duluth. He was 76. His son, Jason Arnold of St. Paul, said that a chronic illness had affected his lungs for years.
“‘Firm but fair,’ was his motto, both professionally and personally,” Jason Arnold said. “He was extremely hard-working, (but) us family members came before everything. We were his No. 1 priority, as it should be.”
Jerome Arnold was born May 13, 1941, and grew up on a farm near Paynesville, Minn., with nine siblings. A career in law and politics wasn’t necessarily on young Arnold’s radar when he left home for the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus in 1959, where he studied agronomy.
After earning his degree, Arnold wanted to continue his education, but he had grown tired of the technical sciences.
“I decided to go to law school, and I loved it,” Arnold told the News Tribune in 1986.
After graduating from the University of North Dakota’s law school and a stint as a clerk for a federal judge in South Dakota, Arnold moved to Duluth in 1968. He served as an assistant Duluth city attorney and a St. Louis County prosecutor before going into private practice in 1971.
That year, Arnold married accomplished pianist and organist Judith Lindor, and they raised four boys and a girl. The two met when Lindor was working at the Top of the Harbor, the revolving restaurant atop the Radisson Hotel in downtown Duluth that today is known as the JJ Astor Restaurant and Lounge.
“My mom was not the type of gal to be playing as a cocktail bar pianist, but there she was as a cocktail bar pianist,” Jason Arnold said. “Dad was a lawyer and was in there having a drink with some colleagues, and she caught his eye.”
In 1974, Arnold ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House seat in Minnesota’s 8th District vacated by retiring Rep. John Blatnik.
A Republican, Arnold lost to Democratic newcomer Jim Oberstar, who would hold the seat for 36 years. But Arnold remained respected and connected in Minnesota politics and the GOP, and he went on to manage Sen. Rudy Boschwitz’s first campaign in 1978.
Arnold was considered for the U.S. attorney post in 1981 but lost out to James Rosenbaum. When Rosenbaum was appointed as a U.S. District Court judge in 1985, it left a vacancy, and Arnold had the support of a number of influential state Republicans as well as Reagan himself.
As Minnesota’s U.S. attorney from 1986-91, Arnold’s tenure included several high-profile cases, including a leading role in the government’s crackdown on savings and loan fraud, according to the obituary his family submitted to the News Tribune. He also helped welcome Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the head of the KGB on a high-profile visit to the Twin Cities in 1990, the obituary said.
Following his tenure, Arnold spent a year in private practice before named a workers’ compensation judge in Duluth in 1993.
Jason Arnold said his father was a dedicated public servant and “the most unselfish man that I ever knew,” who would do anything for the people close to him.
“Personally, Jerry loved his family,” he said. “Professionally, his crowning achievement was being a damned good U.S. attorney in Minnesota.”
Jason Arnold also said his father’s efforts toward mentoring up-and-coming politicians helped lead to a turnover in Minnesota political parties and, indirectly, to current 8th District U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s victory in 2018.
“It was a different day back then,” he said. “Things were not as polarized as they are today.”
Back home on Schultz Lake, Arnold loved listening to his wife play the piano and organ, Jason said. Arnold enjoyed watching the nightly news — politics, in particular. He listened to classical music and followed Minnesota sports. He enjoyed spending time outside landscaping and working on other home improvement projects. He spent time hunting and fishing with friends and family, especially his sons — though Arnold’s daughter was a “daddy’s girl,” too, Jason said.
He was “extremely proud” of his wife, children and grandchildren, Jason Arnold said.
“Without our dad, none of us children would even be close to where we are today in life,” he said.
Arnold is survived by his wife of 47 years, Judy; his children, grandchildren, two brothers and six sisters. A funeral service is planned for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1108 E. Eighth St., with visitation beginning at noon. A reception will follow at the Kitchi Gammi Club, 831 E. Superior St.