Friday, February 7, 2014

Joan Mondale, role model

As a Minnesotan the news of Joan Mondale's passing at age 83 touches me personally. 

Joan Mondale and her husband Walter Mondale were a political couple who lived their values on a national and international stage. 

They did so with grace and an understanding of service not as a platform for self advancement but as a bridge you build that connects and brings others forward.

Walter and Joan Mondale's political life spanned many years. Much of their career was spent in Washington DC where Walter Mondale served as Senator from Minnesota, then as Vice President (1977-1981) under President Jimmy Carter. 

The Mondales also served their country abroad when Walter Mondale was later named Ambassador to Japan.

In the global sense the Mondales had the full life that comes to few of us. Their mutual career (she his inestimable support every step of the way) moved them into the center ring of things with all which this brings. 

It can be awesome to stand within the ropes and know, which surely the Mondales felt (with their hometown backgrounds giving context to the experience) that an eminent position isn't to be taken lightly but comes with responsibility. 

Integrity is tested at this level as it is no matter where we are. I believe the Mondales demonstrated a great deal of integrity. This endeared the couple to those who paid attention as they carried out their public and personal duties.

Maybe it's part of the Midwest character that the Mondales had the knack of quiet living. They didn't lose the knack of being comfortable in their own shoes. They had a sure idea of who they were and went about being themselves.

They were the family next door as lots of us viewed them. We didn't really know the Mondales, as we can say of many people, and then surprise ourselves by how much about them we actually know. 

The Mondales had media coverage and through the stories and interviews they took on real form and meant something to us. 

Joan, an accomplished potter, was a promoter of the arts. We were familiar with this interest of hers but equally we knew and appreciated her role as supportive wife and loving mother. 

We had a good idea of the Mondale family because they were before us for decades of public service. Besides Walter and Joan there were daughter Eleanor - who died in 2011 at age 51- and two Mondale sons.

A few years ago we were at a Twin Cities restaurant. One in our party, with a nod of the head in the direction of the adjacent table, alerted us to the presence next to us of the Mondale family.

The entire family was seated and having a wonderful time. It was a time, as I recall, when Eleanor seemed to have a chance of beating the brain cancer which ultimately claimed her. 

It was a moment of rubbing elbows, in a way, with them. Considerate of their desire for privacy at a public meal we left them alone to eat and enjoy.

It was the holidays. They, like us and the numerous groups filling the popular West End restaurant, were appreciating the social pleasure of gathering as a clan to share a festive dinner together.

More than political accomplishments the Mondales, as a married team working through the national political system, left as their mark upon us the stamp of their common decency.

I say this with the greatest respect. Walter and Joan Mondale utilized their abilities and interests (especially in the areas of environment and the arts). They championed their causes without ever losing, in the bigger game, the basic courtesies based on respect and which are essential to every human transaction.

In their public service years, and afterwards, I identified with Joan as wife and mother in the various moves and multiple reframings of their lives. 

Joan Mondale's ability to be on her toes and at the same time keep her feet firmly planted was apparent and this too was admired.

Public lives take poise and stamina to both stretch and stay grounded and she learned to do this very well. There was strength in this slim smiling woman who settled back into the Minnesota lifestyle when their public time came to an end.

Tributes have been plenty following Joan Mondale's death on February 3. The words have been kind and heartfelt. Often in death one is seen most clearly as they were all along. It's as if for the first time all the attributes are lined up and brought to the light.

In Minnesota the truth is that one of the great ones among us is gone. We were lucky to have Joan Mondale. She represented us well. She needed neither political office nor official title to serve but by demeanor and dignity added to the stock of our worth. 

No votes were required for her to win our affection.  She did it with her gifts of service and warmth. We've gained from what she generously gave. Thank you Joan Adams Mondale (1930-2014). 

Ro Giencke - February 7, 2014

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