Archive for the ‘Vietnam War’ Tag

Feast of Gerald and Betty Ford (July 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford at the Republican National Convention, 1976

Photographer = John T. Bledsoe

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-08487



President of the United States of America and Agent of National Healing

husband of


First Lady of the United States of America and Advocate for Social Justice


The long national nightmare is over.  Our Constitution works.

–President Gerald Ford, August 9, 1974




With this post I merge two feasts.  Doing so is consistent with one of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  That goal is to emphasize relationships and influences.

The Fords were decent people who did much to leave the United States of America better than they found the country.  They were what the U.S.A. needed immediately after the presidency of Richard Nixon.




Leslie Lynch King, Jr., entered the world at Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913, as his parents’ marriage was crumbling.  When Leslie, Jr., was two weeks old his mother and father separated; they divorced before the end of the calendar year.  Dorothy Ayer Gardner King and her young son moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be close to her parents.  On February 1, 1916, Dorothy married paint salesman Gerald R. Ford.  Leslie, Jr., informally Gerald, Jr., for a long time, legally became Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., on December 3, 1935.  In the meantime he had worked in the paint store, become an Eagle Scout, and been a fine student and athlete in public schools then at the University of Michigan (1931-1935).

Ford rejected opportunities to become a professional football player, opting instead to coach boxing and varsity football.  His busy work schedule delayed his admission to Yale Law School until 1938.  While at Yale Ford found time to work on the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Wendell Willkie in 1940.  Our saint, who graduated from Yale Law School in 1941, practiced law in Grand Rapids, where he also taught business law and worked as a football line coach at the University of Michigan.

Ford served in the military during World War II.  In April 1942 he became an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve.  After teaching physical fitness at the pre-flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Ford transferred to the U.S.S. Monterey in 1943.  He served in the Pacific Theater and nearly died.  Lieutenant Commander Ford received an Honorable Discharge in February 1946.

Ford returned to Grand Rapids, where he resumed the practice of law.  Politics beckoned, however.  So did love.




Elizabeth Ann Bloomer, born at Chicago, Illinois, on April 8, 1918, was also contributing to society.  She grew up in Grand Rapids, where her father, Stephenson Bloomer, had died when she was 16 years old.  Betty graduated from high school, taught dancing to children, worked with troubled children, studied dancing under Martha Graham, and worked as a fashion consultant in a department store.  Betty also married William C. Warren, an insurance agent, in 1942.  Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic and a cruel man.  That marriage ended in divorce in 1947.

Gerald and Betty married at Grace Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, in 1948.  They remained husband and wife until Gerald’s death in 2006.  The couple had four children from 1950 to 1957.




Isolationism in foreign policy was a Republican tradition, one Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., and Robert A. Taft practiced.  There was also an internationalist wing of the Republican Party, however.  In 1948 the U.S. Representative for the district containing Grand Rapids was Bartel Jonkman, an isolationist Republican.  Ford, whom World War II had transformed into an internationalist, successfully challenged Jonkman and won the general election in the fall.

Ford, whose ambition was to become the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, remained in the U.S. House until December 1973–for a total of twenty-four years, eleven months, and three days.  He, a member of the Appropriations Committee for most of that time, was a much-respected and well-liked member of that chamber.  Ford described himself as

a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy.

Perhaps Ford went overboard with his fiscal conservatism.  (A good idea, taken too far, becomes a bad idea.)  One biographer, looking back on Ford’s presidency, described him as the kind of man who would help a poor child individually then veto a school lunch bill.  Nevertheless, Ford was always a decent, compassionate man.  Our saint, who served on the Warren Commission, became the Minority Leader in 1965, opposed much of the domestic program of the Johnson Administration, and was skeptical of President Lyndon Baines Johnson‘s military escalation in Vietnam.




In October 1973 Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, guilty of illegal perfidy, resigned as part of a deal with Attorney General Elliot Richardson.  Meanwhile, the Watergate scandal, of President Richard Nixon‘s creation, was rapidly consuming his administration.  Nixon, under the terms of Amendment XXV (1967) of the Constitution, nominated the respected and popular Ford to fill the vacancy Agnew had created.  Many of those in Congress who voted to confirm Ford as Vice President knew they were also selecting the next President of the United States.

Ford was Vice President of the United States from December 6, 1973, to August 9, 1974–nine months and three days.  At first Ford was skeptical of the allegations against Nixon, his old friend.  Yet, as evidence piled high, Ford became skeptical of Nixon then turned against him.  On August 6, 1974, at a Cabinet meeting, Nixon said he would not resign, despite the certainty of imminent impeachment in the House of Representatives and the long odds of avoiding conviction and removal from office in the trial in the Senate.  After that meeting Ford told Nixon,

I can no longer defend you.

Two days later, when Nixon, for his own reasons, announced his resignation, he regretted having appointed Ford to the Vice Presidency.




On the morning of August 9, 1974, Nixon said farewell to the White House staff and left Washington, D.C.  If he had not resigned, his fate would have been conviction and removal from office in the Senate trial; the margin would have exceeded the Constitutional minimum of two-thirds.  At Noon, at the White House, Chief Justice Warren Burger administered the oath of office to Ford.

Ford was the President of the United States from August 9, 1974, to January 20, 1977–two years, four months, and eleven days.  Perhaps he was in an impossible predicament, given the widespread distrust of the presidency and of Washington officialdom due to the combination of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.  Two successive Presidents from different parties had self-destructed politically.  Both had lied to the public.  One had committed criminal acts.  Meanwhile, a Vice President had also committed criminal deeds and had to resign.  The country needed a decent, honest man as the President of the United States more than ever.

Ford and his appointed Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, were Republicans of a sort that was becoming endangered; they were fighting an uphill battle against the more conservative Goldwater wing of the party.  (For that matter, Senator Barry Goldwater, a libertarian, Western Republican, found himself outflanked by social conservatives in the party during the Reagan Administration (1981-1989).  Some of his libertarian views made him too liberal for certain social conservatives in the mold of the Moral Majority.)  Ford was too liberal for many Republicans and too conservative for many Democrats.  He, with the help of Rockefeller, survived a challenge by Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976.  At the end of the year Ford narrowly lost the general election to the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, the former Governor of Georgia.  Ford and Carter actually had much in common, in terms of policies.

Ford, as President, struggled with major global issues that affected other world leaders also.  During the Ford Administration South Vietnam collapsed faster than even North Vietnamese generals expected.  Ford was instrumental in the admission of 130,000 South Vietnamese refugees into the United States.  They and their descendants have contributed to American society.  Financial troubles, such as those related to inflation and energy crises, also occurred before and after the Ford Administration and affected the world, from Australia to England.  The Helsinki Accords (1975), which attracted criticism from both Reagan and Carter, proved to be historically important, for they held the Soviet Bloc accountable for violations of human rights.

There was also consistency with the Carter Administration.  Carter, for example, took Ford’s negotiations regarding the Panama Canal to the treaty stage.  Carter also made human rights an emphasis in foreign policy.  Carter Administration diplomacy in the Middle East, culminating in the Camp David Accords (1979), built on diplomacy from the Nixon and Ford Administrations.  Also, Nixon and Ford had done much for diplomacy with the Peoples’ Republic of China.  The Carter Administration opened full diplomatic relations with that country.  Furthermore, Ford had issued an amnesty for Vietnam War-era military deserters and draft dodgers; Carter issued a pardon.

Ford’s pardon of Nixon (September 8, 1974) ensured defeat in the election of 1976.  Ford insisted that the pardon, which carried with its acceptance an admission of guilt, was in the best interests of the country–to help with the healing process.  Vindication of this position came in 2001, when he won the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

In December 2006, shortly after Ford’s death, biographer Lou Cannon, speaking on National Public Radio, said that our saint

had a practical mind and a noble heart.

Ford applied both of those during his years of public service.  The Nixon Administration had been an imperial presidency.  Ford, in contrast, was an unpretentious, humble man known for his innate decency.




Betty Ford was controversial.  She, a feminist, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, a position her husband shared.  Unfortunately, that proposed amendment failed to become part of the Constitution.  Betty also held a libertarian (pro-choice) position on abortion and a non-libertarian position on gun control.  Two of her greatest contributions to the country as First Lady pertained to the cancer and mental illness, both of which came with stigmas attached at the time.  (There is still a stigma attached to mental illness.)  Betty shared her diagnosis of breast cancer.  She, like Rosalynn Carter, the next First Lady, spoke out in favor of psychiatric treatment and discouraged stigma related to it.  May we recall that, in 1972, Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern had to drop his first running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, from the ticket because Eagleton had once undergone psychiatric treatment.  Furthermore, with regard to cancer, the stigma related to varieties of cancer was a topic in medical dramas of the 1970s.




The Fords left the White House on the morning of January 20, 1977.  Gerald, nearly Reagan’s running mate in 1980, had not become wealthy in elected and appointed offices.  As a former President of the United States he made real money, giving speeches, writing books, and sitting on corporate boards.  He and Betty also befriended the Carters after the Carter Administration ended.  Ford had both agreed with and criticized Carter from 1976 to 1981, but they found much common ground during the 1981 flight to Egypt, to attend the funeral of Anwar el-Sadat, the assassinated President of Egypt.

Betty, as a former First Lady, continued to help others.  She admitted her alcoholism and entered a treatment program.  Then, in 1982, she founded the Betty Ford Center at Rancho Mirage, California.

Today we know that addiction is a matter of altered brain chemistry.  It is not merely a matter of bad morality and a weak will.  Science argues against old attitudes and stigma in this case.  Nevertheless, old attitudes that disregard the scientific evidence (such as brain scans) persist, so stigmas remain.

Former President Ford remained an honorable man to the end.  He, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, was a class act.  He advised Bill Clinton to confess during the Lewinsky scandal.  Clinton sought the counsel then declined to heed it, at least when Ford offered it.  In 2001 Ford announced his support for marriage equality for homosexuals, thereby arguing against homophobia.  A few years later he quietly opposed the Second Iraq War during the George W. Bush Administration.  The Republican Party moved past Ford.

The former President died at Rancho Mirage, California, on December 26, 2006.  He was 93 years old.

Betty, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, lived until the age of 93 years also.  She died at Rancho Mirage on July 8, 2011.




Mere decency and political civility are virtues that seem to be in short supply in the United States of America in 2018.  The examples of Gerald and Betty Ford remind one of a contentious time when those virtues were more plentiful.  One might legitimately disagree with one or both of them on certain policy issues, but one should acknowledge their great decency and respect their service to the country.  One should join with Jimmy Carter, who at the inauguration in 1977, thanked Gerald Ford for doing much to heal the country.  The wound of Watergate have never healed; they have run that deeply.  The shadow of Watergate, as Bob Woodward has called it, has fallen across all Presidents after Nixon.  The wounds of Watergate have proven too deep for any President or combination of Presidents to heal completely, one should admit.  Yet one should also acknowledge that Ford did his part honestly, humbly, and honorable.

One should also give all due credit to Betty Ford, especially for calling on people to put away harmful stigmas.








Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servants Gerald and Betty Ford,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


Feast of John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, and Lester Pearson (August 16)   5 comments

H2O 2004 01

Above:  Canadian Houses of Parliament, from H2O (2004)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD



Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (1956-1967) and Prime Minister of Canada (1957-1963)



Premier of Saskatchewan (1944-1961) then Leader of the New Democratic Party (1961-1971)



Leader of the Liberal Party (1958-1968) and Prime Minister of Canada (1963-1968)


Today I add to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days three Canadian statesmen who, despite their political differences, were each partially responsible for creating the national health care system.

Our story begins, however, with Prime Minister Richard Bennett (1870-1947), who led his country from 1930 to 1935.  In 1935 he, the leader of the Conservative Party, was seeking another mandate.  The Prime Minister proposed a set of social programs, including national medical insurance.  Bennett lost the election and his proposal died.  Within a few years, however, a Baptist minister (whom some accused of being a Communist) influenced by the Social Gospel picked up the torch.


Above:  Tommy Douglas

Image Source =

Thomas Clement Douglas (1904-1986), son of Thomas Douglas and Annie Clement Douglas, was born in Falkirk, Scotland.  The family immigrated to Canada when he was six years old.  His father, an iron moulder, suffered from an injury which almost led to the amputation of one leg.  Douglas, whose future depended greatly on his father’s ability to earn a living, became convinced that quality health care should not depend upon one’s ability to afford it.  The family returned to Scotland during World War I then went back to Canada.  Douglas, shaped by the Social Gospel and by social injustices (many of them economic), earned his B.A. at Brandon College, Manitoba, in 1930 (the same year he married Irma Dempsey), and is M.A. at MacMaster University in 1933.  Then he became pastor of a Baptist congregation at Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Politics beckoned Douglas.  He ran unsuccessfully for the provincial legislature on the Farmer-Labour ticked in 1934.  The following year he ran successfully for the federal House of Commons as a candidate of the Co-opearative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a Fabian Socialist party.  Douglas, elected to a second term in 1940, resigned four years later to run successfully for Premier of Saskatchewan.

The CCF, founded in 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, was an outgrowth of Progressivism.  It received much support from trade unionists, farmers, and urban intellectuals.  Causes the CCF supported included:

  1. Clearing slums;
  2. Electrifying rural areas;
  3. Establishing public works programs;
  4. Socializing financial institution and public utilities;
  5. Creating national health insurance;
  6. Establishing pensions for disabled people;
  7. Subsidizing affordable rental housing;
  8. Supporting agricultural prices; and
  9. Passing a national bill of rights.

Many of these goals became realities in governments led by Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker and Liberal Lester Pearson.

Douglas, Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961, instituted important and historical reforms.  He granted public employees the right to bargain collectively.  The Premier’s administration granted equality of access to public places and ownership of property regardless of race, creed, color, or nationality.  And, in 1947, the provincial government began to offer a variety of insurance programs (including medical).

In 1961 the CCF ended its existence; the New Democratic Party (NDP), more moderate than the CCF, took its place with Douglas as the first federal leader.  He, returned to the House of Commons in 1962, remained there through 1979, except for a brief gap in 1968-1969.  Douglas, who left the national leadership of the NDP in 1971, received the honor of the Order of Canada in 1980.  The staunch defender of civil liberties died at Ottawa, Ontario, in 1986.

Diefenbaker 1926

Image in the Public Domain

Now we turn our attention to John Diefenbaker (1895-1979), a man who defended his opinions vigorously then acknowledged that those fellow countrymen who disagreed with him were also loyal Canadians.  National unity mattered greatly to Diefenbaker, as did how decisions which governments and corporate boards made affected common people.  “Dief the Chief” was a Western populist whose principles made him unpopular with elements of his political party, the Progressive Conservatives.

Diefenbaker, born at Neustadt, Ontario, in 1895, was son of William Thomas Diefenbaker and Mary Florence Bannerman Diefenbaker.  The future Prime Minister, who moved to the Fort Carlton region of the North-West Territories with his family in 1903, relocated with them to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, seven years later.  He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with his B.A. in 1915 and with his M.A. the following year.  Diefenbaker served in the Army in 1916 and 1917 then entered law school, graduating in 1919.

The Saskatchewan attorney entered political life.  In 1925 and 1926 he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Commons on the Conservative Party ticket.  In 1929 and 1938 Diefenbaker ran unsuccessfully for provincial offices.  Yet, from 1936 to 1940, he led the provincial Conservative Party.  And from 1940 to 1979, he sat in the House of Commons.  Diefenbaker, federal leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (renamed in 1942) from 1956 to 1967, served as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.

Along the way Diefenbaker married twice.   His first wife was Edna Mae Brower (1899, 1951), whom he married in 1929.  He remarried in 1953, wedding Olive Freeman Palmer (1902-1976).

As Prime Minister Diefenbaker had some important accomplishments.  As a matter of principle he opposed government favors for millionaires.  This policy disturbed many members of the Eastern, big business-oriented wing of his party yet pleased his fellow Western populists.  Diefenbaker, like Tommy Douglas an advocate of a national bill of rights, secured passage of it in 1960.  The Prime Minister led the international movement to isolate the Apartheid government of the Republic of South Africa.  And, in 1961, he appointed a Royal Commission on Health Services.  Three years later the Royal Commission endorsed the Saskatchewan model–mandatory health insurance.  (This had been mandatory in the province since 1961.)

The Canadian Bill of Rights (1960) was a landmark law.  It was the first national legislation to protect human rights and basic freedoms.  This bill of rights lasted until 1982, when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms superceded it.

Diefenbaker, a Baptist, died at Ottawa, Ontario, in 1979.


Above:  Lester Pearson, July 16, 1956

Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner Duncan Cameron
Credit: Duncan Cameron / Library and Archives Canada / e007150483

Mikan number 3727308,3727311,3840421,3727310,3840420,3727308,3840408,3840418,3840414,3727312

The final luminary in our Canadian triad is Lester Pearson (1897-1972), Diefenbaker’s frequent political adversary.  Pearson was born at Toronto, Ontario.  He, the son of a Methodist pastor, attended public schools at Peterborough and Hamilton.  Pearson served in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I.  His military service ended when a bus ran over him and the Corps sent him home.  Then Pearson attended the University of Toronto (B.A., 1919) and Oxford University (degrees in 1923 and 1925).  Next he worked as a Lecturer (1924-1926) then as an Assistant Professor (1926-1928) of History at the University of Toronto.

Then Pearson commenced his career as a diplomat.  He, married to Maryon Elspeth (1901-1989) since 1925, became a first secretary in the new federal Department of External Affairs in 1928.  This led to a series of diplomatic postings and service on two royal commissions then a stint as Secretary (later Counsellor) of the Canadian High Commissioner’s Office in London.  Pearson, nearly the first Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), served as the first Ambassador to the United States in 1945-1946.  Next, in 1946-1948, he was the Undersecretary of State for External Affairs.  In 1947 Pearson served as Chairman of the UN’s Political and Security Committee; he proved instrumental in the partition of Palestine in 1947.

Then, in 1948, Pearson entered politics, his arena for the next two decades.  The future Prime Minister, a member of the Liberal Party, joined the House of Commons and became Secretary of State for External Affairs.  His diplomacy continued–he was ever a diplomat–into political life.  In 1956, during the Suez Crisis, Pearson proposed the creation of a UN peacekeeping force, thereby aiding British and French withdrawal from Egypt.  For this he won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.  In 1957, with Diefenbaker’s rise to the office of Prime Minister, the Liberal Party became the main opposition party.  Pearson led that party from 1958 to 1968, when he retired from public life.

Pearson became Prime Minister in 1963.  He led two successive minority governments (1963-1965 and 1965-1968).  His tenure was eventful.  In 1965 Pearson signed the Canada Pension Plan (similar to Social Security in the U.S.A.), something for which Tommy Douglas also advocated.  Pearson also presided over the centennial of Canadian confederation in 1967.  Of great importance also were two other laws.

In 1966 the Government of Canada created Medicare–socialized medicine–via the Medical care act.  This accomplishment also had the fingerprints of Richard Bennett, Tommy Douglas, and John Diefenbaker all over it.

Flag of Canada Pre-1965

Above:  The Flag of Canada, 1957-1965

Image in the Public Domain

And, in December 1964, Parliament voted to change the national flag, switching from a flag with the Union Jack prominent in it to the current banner, the one with the maple leaf symbol.

Flag of Canada Current

Above:  The Flag of Canada Since 1965

Image in the Public Domain

This was not a universally popular decision.  John Diefenbaker, a defender of Canada’s British heritage, opposed the new flag.  He spoke of the two founding nations of Canada–Britain and France–and of how the flag should show both heritages.  The former Prime Minister also spoke of the Canadian soldiers who had died fighting under a Canadian flag with the Union Jack on it.

Pearson, ever the diplomat and mediator, tried to resolve a variety of disputes, sometimes unsuccessfully.  In 1965, for example, the Prime Minister, in a speech at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criticized U.S. policy in Vietnam and suggested that, if the United States were to halt bombing in Vietnam, there might be an opening for a negotiated settlement.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson took great offense and invited him to Camp David.  There the President demonstrated his displeasure by grabbing the Prime Minister’s lapels and scolding him.  Canada, Johnson said, did not do its fair share to spread freedom around the world, so Pearson had no right to criticize U.S. foreign policy.  The Prime Minister came away from that encounter convinced that the President was a bully and that the United States was not a senior partner but a nation to view from a distance.  Pearson’s subtle description of the encounter to his cabinet was to recount

the story of a British policeman giving evidence at a murder trial.  “My Lord,” the policeman told the judge, acting on information received, I proceeded to a certain address and there found the body of a woman.  She had been strangled, stabbed and shot, decapitated and dismembered.  But, My Lord, she had not been interfered with.”

At Camp David, the Prime Minister concluded, he had at least not been

interfered with.

–Quoted in Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant:  Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 (New York, New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998), page 259

Pearson, a member of the United Church of Canada, died at Ottawa, Ontario, in 1972.

I have been pondering and studying Canada for years.  It is an interest which many people do not understand.  This interest has led me, however, to learn of these great men–statesmen, really–who left Canada better than they found it.








Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servants John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, and Lester Pearson,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


Feast of George McGovern and Eleanor McGovern (October 21)   1 comment


Above:  Senator George McGovern, June 30, 1972

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-U9- 26137-21



United States Senator and Statesman

husband of 




George McGovern (1922-2012) entered the world in Avon, South Dakota.  His mother was Frances Maclean McGovern.  His father was the Reverend Joseph C. McGovern, a minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.  The family upbringing was strict (even no movies) and financially strapped during the Great Depression.  Young George rebelled against his struct upbringing by watching movies anyway.  More importantly, he developed a lifelong empathy for the underpaid working people and the poor more broadly speaking.

Eleanor Stegeberg (1921-2007) entered the world at Woonsocket, South Dakota.  She and her twin sister Ila grew up during the Great Depression also.  The death of their mother when they were twelve years old forced greater responsibilities upon them at that young age.

Both saints graduated from high school in 1940–George from Mitchell, South Dakota, and Eleanor from Woonsocket.  Both of them matriculated at Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota, in Fall 1940.  There they met and fell in love.  Eleanor had to leave school after one year for financial reasons.  So she went to work as a legal secretary at Mitchell.  George remained at Dakota Wesleyan until he joined the military, flying thirty-five combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.   Then he returned to Dakota Wesleyan, completing his undergraduate degree.  He had already married Eleanor on October 31, 1943  They raised five children.

George thought that maybe he should be a minister, so he, influenced more by the Social Gospel than by his father’s theology, pursued that track in The Methodist Church (1939-1968), a forerunner of The United Methodist Church.  He attended Garrett Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, for a year and served as a student supply minister at Diamond Lake Methodist Church, Mundelein, Illinois, in 1946-1947.  The experience convinced George that his destiny was not as a minister.  So he transferred to Northwestern University and started graduate studies in history instead.  In 1950 George joined the faculty of Dakota Wesleyan University.

George might have had tenure and a long career as a university professor had he not chosen politics instead.  In 1948 he, raised a Republican, volunteered for the campaign of Henry A. Wallace.  George became disenchanted with many of the people around the former Secretary of Agriculture, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce, though.  Four years later George worked on behalf of Adlai Stevenson‘s Presidential campaign.  In 1955 George left his faculty post to work full-time in South Dakota Democratic Party politics.  He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1957-1961).  He, defeated in a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, became the first Director of the Food and Peace Program and a Special Assistant to the President in 1961.  Thus George oversaw the distribution of much food to hungry people in developing nations.  He served as a U.S. Senator (1963-1981), losing his bid for a fourth term.

George was a dedicated public servant.  In Congress he, advised by Eleanor, took special interest in food and nutrition programs.  He also worked on peace and war issues.  George’s opposition to the Vietnam War pertained to the facts of that conflict, not war itself; he was not a pacifist.  Such opposition caused many jingoists to question his patriotism and to vote for President Richard Nixon instead in 1972, but at least the Senator from South Dakota was an honest man.  Presidents Gerald Ford (in 1976) and Jimmy Carter (in 1978) appointed him a delegate to the United Nations.  From 1991 to 1998 George served as President of the Middle East Policy Council.  In 1998 President Bill Clinton appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.  Clinton awarded the former Senator the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 2000.

After the Clinton Administration ended the good works continued.  The World Food Programme appointed George the United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger in 2001.  Two years later he began to work with former Senator and 1996 Republican Presidential Nominee Robert J. “Bob” Dole on the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.  They helped many of the world’s poorest children, especially girls and young women, gain access to good food.  The two former Senators shared the World Food Prize in 2008 for this accomplishment.  And George spoke out against the Second Iraq War, for many of the same reasons he had opposed the Vietnam War.

George and Eleanor worked together and separately on issues which affected people.  The Senator had food and world peace on his mind.  Eleanor focused on family issues, such as women’s roles and child development, for a while.  She served on various boards, including those of the Psychiatric Institute Foundation and the Child Study Association.  In 1994 their daughter Terry died; alcoholism had contributed to her demise.  So both of them worked on raising funds for research into alcoholism.

 Eleanor died at Mitchell, South Dakota, on January 25, 2007.

George died at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on October 21, 2012.  Politicians and public figures of various stripes offered their appreciation and admiration for him.  On the Cable News Network (CNN) website I found positive comments from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senator (as I write this, Secretary of State) John Kerry, former Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich, who had little in common politically with George McGovern, described him as:

Just a great guy.

Last October, shortly after the former Senator’s death, I clipped a Cal Thomas column–a tribute to his good friend and debating partner, George McGovern.  The former Senator, Thomas wrote, was a gentleman and

…a fellow American, a patriot and an example


practiced “family values” better than some conservatives who merely talk about them

and who

understood war better than some conservatives who have never fought in one

and who

believed America should only put American lives at risk when supreme national interests and security are at stake and diplomacy has completely failed.

This position, Thomas wrote, was

Honorable and principled.

George and Eleanor McGovern left their planet better than they found it.  The impact of their actions was–and is–domestic and international.  They did all this for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  Thus I honor them as saints gladly.





O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those

to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


For Further Reading: