The Life of Walter Mondale: Remembrance and Reflection

May 4, 2022
President Joe Biden standing behind a podium, speaking
President Joe Biden spoke at the memorial service for former Vice President Walter Mondale at Northrop on May 1, 2022. "He was one of the finest men I’ve ever known," said Biden. Photo: Eric Miller

President Joe Biden and other dignitaries paid tribute to former vice president Walter Mondale at a memorial service May 1 on the University of Minnesota campus, attended by hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, and political dignitaries.

Mondale, who passed away in April 2021 at age 93, was remembered for his humility and decency as much as for the long-lasting impact he had on the American system of government during his illustrious political career. 

Over five decades, Mondale served as Minnesota attorney general, U.S. senator, vice president, and U.S. ambassador to Japan. 

“He was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, one of the most decent people I've ever dealt with, and one of the toughest, smartest men I've ever worked with," said Biden, recalling his 50-year friendship with Mondale, beginning when the two served together in the U.S. Senate in the 1970s. 

Watch video of the event See photos of the event

Speakers including Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and its two U.S. senators, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, talked of Mondale’s lifelong love of Minnesota, his family, and friends. Smith and Klobuchar each recalled how Mondale encouraged and mentored them as they entered politics.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham spoke of Mondale’s efforts to pass civil rights legislation, the Fair Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Title IX. He also succeeded in preserving wilderness along rivers including the St. Croix and creating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Stage setup for Walter Mondale memorial service
Walter Mondale memorial service. Photo: Eric Miller

“There are children in America today who will not go hungry because of Fritz Mondale,” Meacham said. “There are Black people in America today who can vote and work and live more freely and fairly because of Fritz Mondale. There are women in America today who see no limit to their dreams because of Fritz Mondale.”

Mondale had longstanding ties to the University of Minnesota; he earned his law degree there, and for the last 15 years, he co-taught a class on the U.S. Constitution and national security with Humphrey School Professor Larry Jacobs.

Mondale loved his role as a teacher, saying at one point, “our students have kept me alive.” 

Jacobs said Mondale believed strongly in the Constitution’s “sacred principles of public accountability to blunt the ageless tendency of presidents to abuse power.” 

“He drilled students in the wisdom of James Madison’s plan to check ambition. And, then we interrogated the decisions of Republican and Democratic administrations (including his own),” Jacobs said. “He implored students to exercise America’s fundamental, profound, and sacred principles of democracy. Professor Mondale stands as a living legacy for his many students – and for me.”  

At the end of the program, the U of M’s Marching Band gave Mondale a fitting sendoff with an energetic rendition of “The Minnesota Rouser.”

PROGRAM:

  • Minnesota Governor Tim Walz
  • University of Minnesota President Joan T. A. Gabel
  • Professor Larry Jacobs, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  • Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN
  • Josie Robinson Johnson, civil rights activist (recorded video remarks)
  • U.S. Senator Tina Smith
  • Presidential historian Jon Meacham
  • U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • President Joe Biden
  • Ted Mondale and William Mondale, sons of Mr. Mondale
  • Vocal performance of “Tomorrow” by Lillian Hochman; accompanist Philip Brunelle
  • University of Minnesota Marching Band, “Minnesota Rouser” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

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