Walter Mondale Memorial For “My Type Of Democrat”, First Political Rally


There was a memorial service this past weekend that did not receive as much notice, given it was held on a Sunday and a year after the death of the person being honored. The pandemic impacted so many aspects of our lives, including the timing of the service for Walter Mondale.

He died in April 2021.

The New York Times wrote a perfectly toned article about Sunday’s gathering.

There was, indeed, a quintessentially “Minnesota nice” quality to the event. Eulogists spoke of Mr. Mondale’s Norwegian stoicism, Midwestern values and dedication to helping others. The marching band from his cherished University of Minnesota played the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Lillian Hochman, a young Minnesota actress, sang “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie,” a Mondale favorite.

You can watch the powerful remarks from Jon Meacham and the emotional tribute from President Biden here.

Mondale was my type of Democrat, my type of politician. Correct on the issues with a strong moral character and manners that would be welcome in any home in the nation. He was also the first major politician I had the chance to encounter.

On Labor Day 1984 I was attending the first major political rally of my life.  It was also the first major political rally that I would report on for WDOR news.

I was young, eager, and so excited that I could barely contain myself.  Days before the event I had gone through a background check to gain press credentials which allowed me onto the risers with the national press.  Knowing I was going to stand alongside some of the journalists I had a deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at a rally with a presidential nominee.

I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Merrill, Wisconsin in my light blue Chevet and still recall the feeling that life could not be better.  I was doing what I had always really wanted to do, which was get close to politics and report about it.  I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall attempts to slow down to better take in every moment, every detail.

Many broadcasters were questioning whether the traditional start of the presidential fall campaign was best done in a place like Merrill.  If memory serves me right Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro started that Labor Day in New York and encountered rainy weather.  That the sky was gray and filled with sprinkles in Merrill was not lost on those who thought it an omen for the election outcome.

When the music ramped up Mondale and Ferraro took the simple outdoor platform and gave punchy dramatic stump speeches

But Mondale saw it far differently.  With rolled-up shirtsleeves, Mondale told the audience it did not matter whether it was rain, hail, sleet, or snow.  The Democrats would make it to the polls on Election Day!

I knew at once that my political infection was for real.  Never before had I felt so alive.  So in the moment.

Here is the final draft of that speech.

Once at the rally site I climbed to stand with the press and was truly pleased to be about three feet from Lynn Sherr and Brit Hume, both from ABC.  I smiled to myself when Sherr asked Hume how to pronounce “La Follette” and I then laughed out loud later that night when she mispronounced it on the national news.   Everyone has on-air slips, and it was comforting to see it play out in front of me.

To be honest being on the risers with the press could have been the culmination of the day and I would have been totally content.

Geraldine Ferraro was loved by that crowd in Merrill.  The applause was enthusiastic, and the warmth for her was genuine.  Later I went down and recorded some interviews with voters and my thrust of the news story was how they viewed the first female nominee.  Ferraro was breaking new ground and they were glad Labor Day in Merrill was where she spent some of her time.

I shall be forever grateful to Mondale for choosing Ferraro as his running mate.

I will never forget that first major rally, the sense of being young and living life. Or the strong convictions of a man who would have been a far superior choice for the nation that year in the election.

Our country lost a great man who epitomized the meaning of public service. Mondale summed it up best with one line. “Politics is not about power. It is about doing good for the people.”

And so it goes.

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