Trailblazing senator's wife, Eleanor McGovern, dies at 85
Eleanor McGovern, a woman credited with blazing a new path for political spouses, died Thursday morning at her home in Mitchell, S.D. She was 85. McGovern had been suffering from heart problems and had undergone bypass surgery last year. She was ...
Eleanor McGovern, a woman credited with blazing a new path for political spouses, died Thursday morning at her home in Mitchell, S.D. She was 85.
McGovern had been suffering from heart problems and had undergone bypass surgery last year.
She was a Woonsocket, S.D., native and the wife of former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., whom she began dating in 1940 while both were students at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell.
During her husband's unsuccessful 1972 run for the presidency, Mrs. McGovern broke from the traditional role of the candidate's wife by making solo campaign appearances and sharing her thoughts on the issues.
"I was determined to help with George's career, not only by taking responsibility for the family, but by contributing ideas," she wrote in "Uphill," her 1974 memoir. "In fact, I never considered it 'George's' career -- it was 'ours.' "
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who has known the McGoverns for more than 40 years, said Thursday that Mrs. McGovern "set the standard for political spouses."
"I think what most people came to realize about Eleanor is how committed and how passionate she was," Daschle said. "She shared George McGovern's deep passion for progressive public policy and for many of the great issues of the day that you heard him espouse. You could talk with her directly and be every bit as moved by her passion as you would be by his."
The McGovern family declined interview requests Thursday. Survivors include her husband, George; three daughters; a son; a sister; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
In October, George and Eleanor McGovern were honored by luminaries from across the country at the dedication of Dakota Wesleyan University's George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership and Public Service. Mrs. McGovern was too ill to attend the ceremony. Recently, she had been under hospice care at the couple's second residence in Montana.
Former President Bill Clinton, who was a McGovern campaign staffer in 1972, was the keynote speaker at the library dedication.
"For more than 60 years, Eleanor, so brilliant and beautiful, has been by your side," Clinton said that day in reference to Mr. McGovern, "speaking out for children, for families, for larger lives for women, both of you bravely sharing the challenges and pain of the alcoholism so many of us have had in our own families, the disease that claimed your beloved daughter Terry and led to your powerful moving memoir about her struggle and fundamental goodness; for that, too, we have much to thank you."
"Terry" was the nickname of the McGoverns' daughter, Teresa, who died in 1994.
Mr. McGovern has often said his wife was crucial to his success as a politician. In his 1977 autobiography, "Grassroots," he wrote of the prowess she displayed on the campaign trail.
"She handled with intelligence, skill and good humor countless interviews on radio, television and in the press," Mr. McGovern wrote. "We never had to brief her on the issues. She did her own research, improvised her own speeches and delivered them with such effectiveness that people in all parts of the nation were warmed by her presence."