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The Grace of George McGovern

October 26, 2012

I met George McGovern during my stint as the media person for the National Farmers Union (NFU) in their Capitol Hill office in Washington, DC.  I met him twice, both brief encounters, so brief that left surprisingly strong impressions.  Listening to others’ experiences and their knowledge of the man, my honor was not so exceptional.

It still makes me smile to know that I had his home phone and cell phone numbers.  I needed to call because Farmers Union was making a video to commemorate the years of service for the outgoing president of the organization.  The Senator would be in town the next week, and we had to schedule a series of taping sessions with dignitaries who would give kind words for a kind send-off to NFU president Lee Swenson.

For this, I had the number of a man who was a major party nominee for the Presidency of the United States, U.S. Senator and United Nations Ambassador.  You might imagine that I was timid about calling.  Even thought I was told to call, it took a few moments to not see myself like a telemarketer intruding on the evening dinner of royalty.

The first time I called, and his wife Eleanor answered. She said that the Ambassador was not in, but gave me instructions to call back like I was a neighbor who needed a little favor.  I could feel a bit of a hearth of “farm home,” not one unlike ones I called during my Central Minnesota youth.  I could sense that supper was stewing in the background, and that the gracious people on the other end of the line were not too put out by the fact that they were asked to accept a stranger into that place made comfortable by its inhabitants  precious souls.

For the second call, I got Senator/Ambassador–George got on the line.  He made me feel so comfortable, it was almost impossible to get tongue-tied.

The call itself was quite simple, making arrangements to meet at our offices not far off Capitol Hill, a floor above C-SPAN and a floor below NBC News.  We made the appointment and I spent the next week anticipating George McGovern.

When the day came, we were scheduled to tape both the Senator and the former Secretary of Agriculture.  That morning, I stood in the lobby of our building, a little bit in awe over the fact that I had George McGovern’s cell phone number.  He had my cell phone number and would be calling it in a matter of moments from his taxi cab.

My phone rang and was relieved that it was George’s number and not someone else who might have interrupted the Senator’s incoming call.

When I picked up, he said, “This is George McGovern.”  Of course, he didn’t need to.  He didn’t need to do much of grace, respect and kindness of the rest of his visit.  He said that his cab would be in front of the building in a matter of minutes.  He said to be on the lookout for him and then began to describe what he looked like.

I could not help but to give off the most sheepish smile.  I KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE, I wanted to say.  Are you kidding?  You’re George McGovern!

I am not sure what I said.  Maybe something like, “Yes, Mr. Ambassador.  I will see you soon.”  Maybe.  Whatever it was, it was few enough words to keep from tripping over them.

I met him and efficiently whisked him up to the room where we would record his greeting where I had earlier set up the videographer and his equipment.  I don’t know what I said.  I don’t know what the Ambassador said, except that he asked me a couple of questions about myself.  He listened well.

The taping session was brief.  We did two takes, I think, but needed only one.  (You think I should I do it again,” he asked, “or is that one fine?”  I was inclined to let the Ambassador do whatever he wanted.  We did two.)

As we wrapped up that taping, the former Secretary of Agriculture walked in for his taping session.  A brief handshake from the Secretary before he started bending McGovern’s ear.  It was an odd transition in which I suddenly became invisible, and the Ambassador seemed bothered by the hard-press lobby on the Secretary’s behalf.  George escaped.  I did not.

The other time I met George McGovern was during a press conference we held outside the Capitol.  It was a warm spring day.  There several members of Congress there, and some former members as well.

I passed one former member from my home state and said, “Hello Congeressman.”  He looked through me like a distant swarm of gnats.  When George McGovern arrived, he greeted everyone, including lowly Capitol Hill staff.  I remember a couple of our Farmers Union staff, both long-time veterans of Capitol Hill, wanted to be sure that I got a picture of them in conversation with McGovern.  Neither was the type to be star struck, but amid the luminaries and wanna-be luminaries hovering, George was the one with whom they wanted to be documented.

This is a week when we remember two great men who graced Washington, DC in unique ways.  McGovern and Paul Wellstone, who passed ten years ago this week.  Both were friends to the family farmer and Farmers Union and the political landscape is different because of each of them.  I an glad that I knew Paul, and glad that that Midwestern fields were paved by George so that we could never be seen as fly-over landscape.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sherry and Don LADIG permalink
    October 26, 2012 5:10 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. The only time I ever door-knocked for anyone was for his 1972 presidential campaign (yeah, I know I am showing my age). I met him at a rally once—a kind, caring man who felt and lived his principles deeply. Thanks for the memories– Sherry

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