News Column

Highlights in the Life of George McGovern

October 22, 2012

George Stanley McGovern is born in Avon, S.D., on July 19, 1922. His father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister. McGovern later describes his parents as conservative Republicans.

After graduating from high school in 1940, McGovern wins a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D.

He marries Eleanor Stegeberg, whom he met at Dakota Wesleyan, on Oct. 31, 1943. Their five children are all born in Mitchell, S.D.

Starting in November 1944, McGovern pilots B-24 bombers over occupied France, mostly against German petroleum operations. He earns the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving his crew by landing his damaged bomber on a British airfield on Vis, a small island off the Yugoslav coast controlled by Tito's Partisans.

McGovern graduates from Dakota Wesleyan in 1946. He attends Garrett Seminary in Evanston, Ill., for one year before going on to earn his master's and doctorate degrees in American history and government at Northwestern University. He returns to Dakota Wesleyan in 1950 as a professor.

He is elected to Congress in 1956 and re-elected in 1958.

After losing his first bid for the U.S. Senate, the two-term congressman serves as director of the U.S. Food for Peace Program and a special assistant to President Kennedy.

McGovern becomes the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate from South Dakota since 1936. He is re-elected in 1968 and 1974.

He enters several Democratic primaries after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Picking up only 146 delegate votes, he loses the nomination to Hubert Humphrey. He becomes one of the leading opponents of the USA's continued military involvement in Indochina.

In his unsuccessful bid to unseat President Nixon in 1972, McGovern and running mate Sargent Shriver carry just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia and get only 37.5% of the vote. They campaigned on a platform advocating an immediate end to the Vietnam War and a broad program of liberal reforms at home.

McGovern loses the Senate seat he held for 18 years to James Abdnor in the Ronald Reagan avalanche of 1980.

In 1983, he announces before a cheering audience at George Washington University that he will seek the 1984 Democratic Presidential nomination on a platform of "realism and common sense." He drops out of the race in 1984.

He invests in the Stratford Inn, a small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., in 1988. He and his partners file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1990.

President Clinton appoints McGovern in 1997 as ambassador to the United Nations food programs, based in Rome. McGovern serves until 2001. He also creates the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program.

In 1996, he publishes a book about his daughter Terry's 1994 death called Terry: My Daughter's Life and Death Struggle With Alcoholism. His wife, Eleanor, dies of heart disease in 2007.

In December 2011, McGovern falls and hits his head in Mitchell just minutes before he was to be interviewed live on C-SPAN for a program about his lasting influence on modern-day politics.

In April 2012, he is hospitalized in Florida to undergo tests to determine why he is experiencing brief spells during which he passes out and cannot speak.

McGovern celebrates his 90th birthday on July 19 with a Washington event hosted by World Food Program USA and attended by many liberal Democratic politicians.

On Oct. 21, McGovern dies in a hospice in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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