MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Political dignitaries joined family members at Saturday’s memorial service for Joan Mondale, the wife of a former vice president who was remembered for her passion and persistence about arts, politics and community.
Vice President Joe Biden, former President Jimmy Carter and their spouses Jill and Rosalynn were at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis to pay tribute to Mondale, who died Monday at age 83 after an extended illness. Leading Minnesota officials, along with Japan’s consul general, filled rows of pews at the two-hour service.
Carter credited Mondale for bolstering one of the key pieces of his legacy: a commitment to fostering art and artists across the country and beyond. He recalled her as dogged in pushing his administration to do more to promote the arts and humanities.
Joe Biden Remembers Joan Mondale
“Until I met Joan Mondale, I thought Rosalynn was the most persistent woman on earth,” Carter said, noting 22 entries in his personal diary about Mondale lobbying him on the arts in one year alone.
“I tried to find a phrase to describe Joan, and I found this one: ‘Live your life as though it was a work of art,'” Carter said.
Mondale leveraged the political prominence of her husband, Walter Mondale, to focus national attention on arts and culture. He was vice president in the 1970s, a Democratic nominee for president in the 1980s and an ambassador to Japan in the 1990s.
Walter Mondale mostly sat stoically as others shared stories about his wife. But tales by Biden, Carter and others about how his plucky wife often upstaged him drew his laughter.
Biden praised not only Joan Mondale’s commitment to the arts, but also her activism.
“She pushed just as hard for equal pay for women when no one talked about it. … She was incredibly supportive of the first woman nominee that you first put on the ticket, Fritz,” Biden said, looking at Walter Mondale and using the former vice president’s nickname. “Joan was as vocal and as present and as consistent on those aspects of people’s lives … as she seemed to be about art.”
Biden also spoke of his friendship with the Mondales, which began with his own election in 1972. He noted that he had just lost his wife and daughter in a car accident before arriving in the U.S. Senate, where he was welcomed by Joan and Walter Mondale.
“You weren’t just saying the right things. You embraced me. You included me. You brought me in,” he said.
The Mondales’ two sons, William and Ted, read from Scripture. So did musician Chan Poling, who was married to the couple’s daughter, Eleanor. She died a few years ago after a battle with brain cancer.
Joan’s two sisters were also in attendance. One, Jane Canby, described her older sister as the consummate Girl Scout, collecting badges throughout life in her pursuit of “a more civilized community.”
“While she fully supported Fritz’s goals and how to reach them, she also saw this as an opportunity to work on some of her own interests and projects,” Canby said. “She did it with natural grace and humor.”
Jimmy Carter Remembers Joan Mondale
Japan was represented by Consul General Masaharu Yoshida. Art Zegelbone, who was a U.S. cultural affairs officer in Tokyo when the Mondales occupied the embassy there, said she drew instant adoration, in part by immersing herself in local culture. An avid potter, she often gave away the cups and bowls she made as gestures of goodwill.
“All around Japan are these small testaments to Joan,” Zegelbone said.
Throughout the service there were simple touches to connect with aspects of her life. The urn containing her ashes was made by Warren MacKenzie, a renowned potter whom Mondale considered a mentor. One of the remembrances was from Emily Galusha, a local clay potter close to Joan Mondale.
Friends Remember Joan Mondale
Members of the Minnesota Orchestra, where she was once on the governing board, played before the service. A Japanese vocalist sang a famous Asian folk tune. The recessional was by the Macalester College Pipe Band, a campus dear to the Mondales. Joan and Walter Mondale both attended the St. Paul liberal arts school, though they were a few years apart. They met on a blind date and married soon after. Last summer, they celebrated their 58th anniversary.
There will be a second service for Mondale at a later date in Washington.
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