Walter Mondale had a special relationship with Mayo Clinic

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Apr. 22—Walter F. Mondale was a presidential candidate, vice president, and U.S. senator, so it's not surprising that his attachment and relationship to Mayo Clinic tends to get overshadowed in the many memorials written about him.

But his attachment to Mayo was heartfelt and real. Later in life, Mondale, who was raised in Elmore, Minn., referred to himself as a "small-town kid from Southern Minnesota who grew up" next to Mayo. He called it his "highest honor" to have served on the Mayo Board of Trustees twice, from 1989 to 1994 and from 1997 to 2001.

"Not only does Mayo have the finest medical professionals with the highest and most sophisticated learning, but they seem to know how to work together," he said. "You get the best advice from a team of doctors."

It was a relationship also forged in heartache and pain, but also gratitude for the care Mayo Clinic provided his daughter, Eleanor, who died of brain cancer at 51 on Sept. 17, 2011.

Mondale appeared in a Mayo-produced video called "Mayo Clinic and the White House: Caring for America's First Families," and spoke about his family's gratitude to the clinic during that painful time.

"We lost our daughter from cancer," he said. "Mayo doctors took care of her. She loved them. The care and treatment that we received there was extraordinary in every conceivable standard. All of us will never forget how that all came together in a really tough moment in our family's history."

Mondale's death conjured fond memories from Southeastern Minnesota residents who followed his life and political career. Jane Belau, who hosted a long-running cable access interview program, got to know Mondale when he was state attorney general and Belau was an advocate for people with disabilities.

"He was always a thoughtful man, candid, and with a great sense of humor," she said. "He was a great conversationalist. Fun to interview."

Mondale, who died Monday at 93, was a champion of liberal politics and civil rights. He is also being remembered for the way he transformed the vice presidency.

It was a job that Mondale at first didn't want. But after Jimmy Carter won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, Mondale was urged to get into the competition for the No. 2 position. But Mondale wanted to stay in the Senate, where his influence had grown along with his seniority.

At a lunch in the Senate dining room, Mondale sat down with his longtime confidant Dick Moe and Humbert Humphrey, whose time as Johnson's vice president "had been marked by disappointment and humiliation," Dan Balz, a political reporter for The Washington Post, wrote in a recent article.

When Mondale told Humphrey he didn't want to be considered, Humphrey said: "Enough of that, Fritz. For all of the crap I took from Lyndon Johnson, it was the best job I ever had." From that point, Mondale was "in pursuit of the job."

In 1984, Mondale ran against Ronald Reagan, who had beat Carter in 1980. It was a politically inopportune time for a Democratic presidential challenger. Reagan benefitted from surging economic growth and strong popularity. Mondale lost 49 states in the biggest electoral college loss of any candidate in history. He won his home state Minnesota, but by only 4,000 votes.

Lynn Wilson, a former Olmsted County DFL chairwoman, recalled the graciousness and fundamental decency of the man. In 2004, Wilson attended the National Democratic Convention in Boston, where Obama introduced himself to the nation with a speech that electrified Democrats.

The Minnesota delegation, which included Mondale, had front-row seats. Mondale was treated as royalty by convention delegates, who stopped to talk and shake his hand. At one point, Mondale gave Wilson, who was sitting nearby, a tap on the shoulder.

"I'm really kind of getting tired. Can you help me hide out a little bit?" Wilson recalled Mondale saying to her. She walked with Mondale to a back row of the delegation so he could get a breather from the attention.

After his passing, the clinic issued a statement calling Mondale a "great friend of Mayo Clinic" throughout his decades of public service.

Matt Dacy, director of Mayo's Heritage House, the clinic's museum, noted that Mondale served on the board at around the same time as Barbara Bush, former President George Bush's wife. He called it a "great example of bipartisanship."

"These were people who had their honest and fair differences, but they both focused on what do we have in common at Mayo and as Americans," Dacy said.

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