Editor’s Note: Becky Froehlich, a student at Madison High School, has been writing for Dakotafire since the summer. She talked to George McGovern as part of a class assignment in September. This article was first published in her school newspaper, the Madison High School Maroon, on Oct. 19. It has been edited to reflect McGovern’s passing.
This editor’s opinion: Both Froehlich’s questions and McGovern’s answers reflect well on South Dakota. I am feeling more optimistic already. —Heidi Marttila-Losure
George McGovern: A Retrospective Interview
By Becky Froehlich
South Dakota statesman George McGovern passed away in the early hours Oct. 21, 2012, after spending his last few days in hospice care. Just a few weeks earlier, I was deeply honored and fortunate that Mr. McGovern made time for a phone interview with me between some of the many public appearances he still made at his age.
He lived a full life. A South Dakota native, George McGovern has been a professor, historian, author, World War II hero, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and, famously, the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1972 presidential election. More than this, he also dedicated his life to the cause of ending world hunger, being the first U.N. Global Ambassador for World Hunger and eventual co-laureate of the World Food Prize in 2008. And those are only the facts. I hope that this interview gives a more personal perspective of the wonderful person I saw when speaking to him. He was warm and open and above all optimistic. This great hope of his makes his passing even more poignant to me. May Senator McGovern rest in peace, having lived a principle life as a determined leader, open-hearted humanitarian, and man of integrity.
What does it mean to you to be a South Dakota politician?
If you’re a Democrat, it means you work twice as hard! (laughs) South Dakota is certainly a traditionally conservative state, and I feel I broke the precedent back when I was elected to represent. People didn’t give me much hope for my party. But still now, I have great respect for and confidence in the people of South Dakota.
I’m 17. Do you believe that we can end world hunger within my lifetime?
Absolutely. With all of our new technology, and dedicated people, we must. If we haven’t ended hunger by that time, I’d be very discouraged. I won’t be there, but if I achieve my goal of living to be 100 – that’s ten years from now – I hope to see it happen by then.
Robert Kennedy once called you “the only decent man in the Senate.” What has shaped your morals most?
I grew up in a Methodist minister’s parsonage. He drove in us very vigorously to live by a strong moral code. I don’t claim to be a saint, and the people that know me would tell you that. But I will never say in public what I don’t believe or won’t say in private.
The divide between the ideologies of Republicans and Democrats grows greater than ever this election. How did a Democrat like you work so closely in the hunger program with Bob Dole, a Republican?
Working with Bob Dole, the two of us simply both decided to dedicate our time to trying to help the cause of hunger. Our respective parties didn’t change that. We both care. We work hand in glove, and I still consider him one of my most important friends.
You’ve received dozens of honors and awards over the years. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Well, I received the honor from President Bill Clinton – they call it the “Medal of Freedom” – and that is my greatest pride as far as awards. But outside that, my greatest achievement is working towards ending hunger. Awhile ago a respected historian out of Oxford University wrote that I have helped more hungry people than any other individual in history. And that is the best honor I can think of.
What advice would you give to my generation, the youth of America?
First, get as much education as you reasonably can. Go out and think about the impact of your life on the scope of the world. And don’t just be someone who knocks everything and is critical. Whatever happens, try to see an opening for how you can help others, because you’ll find the world really is a good place.
Image credit: George McGovern at the dedication of the McGovern Library at Dakota Weslyan University. Image from http://www.mcgoverncenter.com