Remembering Geri Joseph, Trailblazing Leader and Humphrey School Fellow

October 20, 2023
Composite showing three headshots of Geri Joseph at different ages
Photos of Geri Joseph from various points in her public life. 

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is mourning the loss of Geri Joseph, former ambassador, political activist, and community leader, who died this week at the age of 100. 

Among her many accomplishments, Joseph was a senior fellow at the Humphrey School for 10 years, and co-founded the School’s highly regarded Policy Fellows program. 

Described as a trailblazer, Joseph was one of the first women editors of the University of Minnesota’s newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, in the 1940s. She was an award-winning reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune for seven years before becoming active in Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party politics. 

Joseph worked on one of Hubert Humphrey’s early campaigns, and served as vice chair of the Minnesota DFL and vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in the 1960s and ‘70s.. 

In 1978, President Carter appointed Joseph ambassador to the Netherlands, where she served until 1981. 

Humphrey School service

In 1984, Joseph joined what was then known as the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs as a senior fellow for international programs, teaching classes and organizing programs. 

Along with Walter Mondale, Joseph organized and directed the Mondale Policy Forum, which included a program for young leaders that developed into the Policy Fellows leadership program, which celebrated its 35th anniversary last year. 

Group photo of Larry Jacobs, Geri Joseph and Walter Mondale in 2018
L-R: Professor Larry Jacobs, Geri Joseph, and Vice President Walter Mondale in 2018, at a 30th anniversary celebration for the Policy Fellows program. 

“For years, Geri designed the programming, travel, and guests for our Policy Fellows,” said Professor Larry Jacobs, who now leads the program. “When I took over in 2005, she had characteristically pithy advice for me: ‘Take care of this program.’  For years, Geri attended our sessions and provided feedback and suggestions, with gentle precision.”

After retiring from her academic position in 1994, Joseph continued to volunteer at the School as a longtime member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. 

“It was an honor for me to know Geri and to learn of her contributions to political life in Minnesota and our nation,” said Humphrey School Professor Eric Schwartz, who served as dean from 2011 to 2017. “Time and again, she broke down barriers to leadership that women confronted. A close confidante of Hubert Humphrey, her achievements underscore the importance of sustaining our School’s legacy of a commitment to equity and justice.”

Joseph also served on the boards of several local businesses and community organizations, and was the recipient of awards and honors from the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, and Macalester College, among others. 

Public Leadership Award

Joseph received the Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award in 2006, in recognition of her accomplishments as a journalist, political activist, ambassador, teacher, and community leader. 

In accepting the award, Joseph spoke fondly of Hubert Humphrey, recalling the day they first met in October of 1945 – when she was editor of the Minnesota Daily and he stopped by the newspaper office during his campaign for mayor of Minneapolis. 

Within minutes, he launched into the issues of his campaign, the importance of political action, and why each of us should try to make a difference. It was serious talk, but laced with humor, and something else that I can only describe as good fellowship.

I have been asked many times what there was about Humphrey that drew many of us to his leadership. … For me, Humphrey was a passionate advocate for the common good – two words we use easily but often neglect to implement. He was not a perfect human being, as he frequently acknowledged, but he identified deeply with people, and for him each person mattered.

Even during the turbulent Vietnam time of his run for the presidency, he did not believe that his strongest critics were enemies to be vilified or labeled unpatriotic. He was partisan, but … he was a true believer in the necessity of honorable compromise. He was proud of America’s leadership, but without arrogance, and with awareness that we are in this complicated, diverse world together. 

Above all, Humphrey knew that our democracy can never be static, that we must always seek that more perfect union. I am deeply indebted to that man and to the Humphrey Institute for the goals of public service they represent. 

Read more about Joseph's life and legacy in the Star Tribune  and the Jewish Women’s Archive