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Published October 22, 2012, 03:47 PM

'Spoke What He Thought; Lived What He Said': McGovern Was a Polite but Persistent Advocate for Peace and Ending Hunger

Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner praised George McGovern Sunday as “one of the truly outstanding people who have come out of this part of the world, not afraid to speak truth from his heart.”

By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald

Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner praised George McGovern Sunday as “one of the truly outstanding people who have come out of this part of the world, not afraid to speak truth from his heart.”

The former South Dakota senator and 1972 Democratic candidate for president died Sunday morning. He was 90.

Sinner, a Democrat who served two terms as governor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said that McGovern — like former Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn. — “had a fascination for the truth and the courage to let it fly,” no matter the political cost.

“The world is poorer when these people leave us,” he said.

Other North Dakotans paid tribute to McGovern for his wartime service and his later work for peace, including his commitment to fight hunger at home and abroad.

David Borlaug, president of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation near Washburn, N.D., saluted McGovern — a decorated World War II bomber pilot — as one of the Americans who endured the Great Depression, won the war and returned to rebuild the country.

“When we talk about ‘the greatest generation,’ we usually think of other folks, not those who spoke against war,” Borlaug said.

He said McGovern “represented an era of compromise, of working together,” and cited the work McGovern did with former Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kansas. “Working together, they did wonderful things in Congress, feeding the hungry in America and around the world.”

Borlaug said he grew up “in a very conservative Republican family” but responded as a teenager in 1972 to McGovern’s criticism of the war in Vietnam.

“He motivated me to become much more active in searching out the truth,” he said. “He was philosophically pure, and that’s why he lost in a landslide to a man (Nixon) who a scant two years later was drummed out of office for dishonesty.”

Rick Collin, deputy state director for Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., recalled meeting the former South Dakota senator when McGovern spoke in Bismarck three years ago.

“At the age of 87, he was on a very ambitious tour promoting his book (on Abraham Lincoln), and I know I wasn’t the only one who was struck by his energy and vitality,” Collin wrote on his Facebook page Sunday.

“He told me that he was busy working on his next book, a history of how Afghanistan had become the graveyard of empires.

“World War II bomber pilot and hero, college history/political science professor, director of President Kennedy’s Food for Peace program, U.S. Senator from South Dakota from 1963-81, the 1972 Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and President Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. He was a truly great American.”

Alice Olson, who was involved in Democratic-NPL politics before and after the 1972 presidential election and was the party’s nominee for attorney general in 1980, said the work that McGovern did to open up the national Democratic Party to women and minorities “may well be his most important work of all.”

She said the party’s national conventions since have better reflected “the glorious diversity of our country.”

Hero, gentleman

State Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, wasn’t born until seven years after McGovern’s crushing 1972 loss to Nixon, but he came to appreciate the man through his parents’ generation.

“There’s a lot to be said for someone who was a war hero, came back to South Dakota and his family and persistently and politely went about advocating for values he cared about,” Schneider said.

“He was a perfect gentleman, a model for people in the Upper Midwest who aspire to public service.”

News reports Sunday indicated that McGovern had asked that, in lieu of flowers, people wishing to offer memorials make donations to a South Dakota program against hunger.

“Even in death, he’s still serving the public,” Schneider said.

Bruce Hagen, a Democrat who served nearly four decades on the North Dakota Public Service Commission, said he first met McGovern, then teaching in South Dakota, when UND’s political science department invited him to lecture in 1952. Hagen was a student.

“He was a very nice man with a lot of guts, a man of the plains, son of a minister, who spoke what he thought and lived what he said.”