Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his Wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and campaign aides Will McLaughlin, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy.
On Friday, Sen. Wellstone’s oldest son David’s new book “Becoming Wellstone” goes on sale in bookstores.
The book is a memoir and a searing account of how he dealt with grief.
David Wellstone’s book describes Paul Wellstone as a devoted father.
“He had me at 19, so I got to see him at 24, 25, 26,” Wellstone said.
Paul Wellstone was also a dad obsessed with his kids’ sports.
“My dad, he would run next to me in cross country meets and say, ‘You can get that guy, you can get that guy,’” he said.
Wellstone writes June Cleaver had nothing on his mom.
“My mom did everything,” he said. “She was the glue.”
The book is also an unflinching journey through grief.
The morning of Oct. 25, 2002, David Wellstone was eating breakfast near his father’s St. Paul campaign office when he got the call that the plane carrying his father, mother, sister and three campaign aides was missing.
He rushed to the campaign’s headquarters.
“I knew that the plane had been missing, and when I got there and everyone crying and completely broken down I knew it was not good,” he said.
He left within minutes, getting into his car and driving alone three hours to the crash site.
“I don’t know what happens to one’s head,” he said. “I had this feeling I had to go, and try and help, and try and get there and see if I could help, if there was something to do.”
He was taken to a trailer where live cameras showed the wreckage still burning.
“It was too dangerous to get to the plane to put it out,” he said. “I was in a state of shock.”
He says he does not remember where he spent that night. And he remembers few details of the dramatic days that followed.
“It was sort of a blur,” he said.
He and his brother Mark spoke at the public memorial, which also featured partisan calls to action, notably from his father’s best friend Rick Kahn.
Wellstone says he did not realize until much later that the memorial had become a political lightning rod.
“There was no intention to make that political, no intention and that was the saddest part,” he said. “The intention was to give all the people who loved my mom and dad and the others to be a part of the grieving.”
Days later Norm Coleman beat Walter Mondale.
“Mondale did the best he could do, everybody did the best they could do,” he said. “I just moved on.”
But Wellstone moved on to a period of paralyzing grief unable to even open his mail.
“I got foreclosure notices, I saw someone come out to the front and turn off my water,” he said.
His neighbors in Golden Valley left meals at the front door every day for months.
“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “It makes me emotional just talking about that.”
But everywhere he turned, people came to him for help with their own grief.
“I couldn’t give comfort to people,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I had to leave.”
The book details how Wellstone drove west to Northern California, happening on a coastal property, which became his home and retreat.
Months later, his brother Mark moved next door. A single dad, Wellstone devoted himself to his two children Carrie and Keith, now 21 and 18.
“They gave me meaning, when I was at my lowest point,” he said. “It gave me something to live for.”
A turning point came in 2006, when he got a call asking him for help with the Mental Health Parity Bill named for his father. He testified before Congress and remembers lawmakers reactions when the bill finally passed in 2008.
“Having members look up and saying, ‘Thanks, this is for your dad,’ it gives me chills right now,” he said.
In 2009, he married Leah, a therapist, and just two months ago moved back to St. Paul — to the same neighborhood where his parents once lived, where you still see the occasional Wellstone sign. He is creating a new nonprofit devoted to mental health issues.
“If I can use who my dad was, and what he did in a positive way, in a good way, to be able to work on mental health stuff — to me that is honoring their memory and trying to make meaning of what happened,” he said.
Mark Wellstone now lives in Colorado with his family.
David Wellstone’s book “Becoming Wellstone” will be available in book stores nationwide on Friday. It is also available online at all major book sellers.