Klobuchar: “Mondale obeyed the law. He kept the peace. And he took risks. He led the way. He set a high bar. And time after time he kept passing it and raising it, passing it and raising it.”
MINNEAPOLIS - Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar delivered remarks and introduced President Biden at the memorial service for her longtime friend and mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
“Walter Mondale told the truth, he obeyed the law. He kept the peace. And he took risks. He led the way. He set a high bar. And time after time he kept passing it and raising it, passing it and raising it,” said Klobuchar. “The son of a minister, who went from a small town in southern Minnesota to the world stage, and on his way up, he never lost his way. He was—and is—our guiding star. He was—and is—our North Star. .”
In addition to Klobuchar, President Joe Biden, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Governor Tim Walz (D-MN), historian Jon Meacham, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel, University of Minnesota Walter and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies Larry Jacobs, Reverend Tim Hart-Anderson, and Mondale’s sons Ted and William also spoke at the memorial service.
Good afternoon. Thank you for those beautiful words, Jon. Mr. President, distinguished guests. It is so wonderful to see everyone again. And what better person to bring us together than our Walter Mondale.
Ted, William—thank you for putting together this beautiful event. And it is an honor for John and I to be here with you and your family to celebrate the life of your dad, our friend, our leader, our mentor, our Fritz.
A few years back, I visited the Carter Museum in Atlanta. Of course I wanted to learn about President Carter’s early days in Plains, but like the Mondale geek that I am, I just kept asking the guides to show me everything Mondale. The buttons - Congressman Phillips is sporting one today, the videos of the speeches - Governor Dayton, the Grits and Fritz signs - some of you remember those. And yes, I even asked if they had Joan’s dress from the inauguration.
But at the very end of the visit, I saw some words inscribed, large on the wall. They were Walter Mondale’s words… you see, right after they lost in 1980, he was able to look back at their four years in the White House with clear-eyed reflection. He said this: “We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace.”
I wrote those words down on a piece of paper and tucked them in my purse and I kept them there as a touchstone to get through the last years.
“We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace.” That’s our Mondale. That’s the standard—and more—that he held himself to each and every day of his life.
It was what guided him - Keith Ellison - as a young state attorney general, when he led attorneys general across the country to embrace the right to counsel in a landmark Supreme Court case.
Tell the truth. Obey the law. Keep the peace.
It’s what mattered to him as a U.S. Senator, when he fought for civil rights and fair housing. It’s what motivated him as our country’s Vice President, when he insisted on being a true partner to President Carter, deserving of a place in “the room where it happens.”
Setting a high standard? How about when he picked Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. I still remember her standing there next to him in her red dress and her string of white pearls. And it was at that moment when I knew anything and everything was possible.
And he continued setting those high standards as Ambassador to Japan, a nation in which he was known—affectionately of course—as “Oh-mono,” or, in Midwestern vernacular, “the big cheese.”
Walter Mondale told the truth. He obeyed the law. He kept the peace. And despite his seemingly stoic Norwegian cautious manner—okay correction, Tina, Ted, William —his actual Norwegian cautious manner—he took risks. He led the way. He set a high bar. And time after time he kept passing it and raising it, passing it and raising it.
It was during Mondale’s time as Vice President that we first met. My first assignment as a college intern was to conduct the furniture inventory. I thought I was going to write all these policy papers. This was it. My job was to crawl under every staff member’s table and chair and lamp, and diligently check the serial numbers.
As I like to tell students, I learned two things from that summer. The first: the Vice President was scrupulously honest. Nothing was missing. And second: take every job seriously. Because that was my first job in Washington, and thanks to Walter Mondale, this was my second.
I found out way back then, that for Vice President Mondale, public service was not about personal glory. It was about the people. It was about democracy. It was about our country. That’s why Fritz made it his mission to prepare the next generation of leaders in Minnesota at this great university. He became a devoted mentor to so many—including me.
Vice President Mondale was the first to encourage me to run for the U.S. Senate. He was the first to teach the pundits in Washington how to say my last name. And the first time I spoke, Mr. President, at the national Democratic Convention, it was Walter Mondale who warned me of the danger of relying on a TelePrompter.
Back in 2004 as County Attorney, Hennepin County Attorney, I was invited to speak at the Democratic Convention in Boston. Okay, let me correct that too. They didn’t really invite me. He got me invited.
And of course he was there. The morning of my speech, Fritz came up to me and said: “Now, you’ve memorized your speech, right?”
I told him that there was a TelePrompter and it was only three minutes and I would be just fine. He said: “No, that isn’t fine. Remember the time in 1980 at the convention when Carter said ‘Hubert Horatio Hornblower’? That was a teleprompter screw-up. So don’t trust it. Memorize the speech.”
Now, this advice struck me as a little bit out-of-date but, I told him I would memorize my speech, and I did. Later that night I was at the convention, on the big stage, ready to go for my big three-minute moment.
Senator Leahy was up at the podium. In the middle of his speech he suddenly stopped and looked around the room. The teleprompter had gone dark.
From where I stood waiting on the corner of the stage I could see Walter Mondale in the front row. I made eye contact with him, and I have never seen a more pointed “I told you so” nod in my life. I nodded back.
When I got up there, whether the teleprompter was working again or not didn’t matter any more. Thanks to Walter Mondale, I never gave it a glance. I looked only at the crowd. I added some stuff. I had some fun. It was great and when it was done, people were clapping and cheering, and some of them even stood up. Do you know why? Because Walter Mondale was there. In the first row. And when he stood, they stood.
He was my mentor from the very beginning of this journey. He taught me a lot. But maybe the most amazing gift he gave me was the gift of resilience. Because you see it wasn’t just the decency he displayed on the national political stage that made him stand out.
It was the dignity he brought home in the wake of defeat. It was not easy for Walter Mondale to run against Ronald Reagan, knowing that most people were predicting that Reagan would win.
It was not easy for Walter Mondale to come out of retirement and run for the Senate after we lost Paul Wellstone. It was not easy for Walter Mondale to continue his work while caring for his beloved wife, Joan, and their daughter, Eleanor, through heartbreaking illnesses. None of it was easy.
But when saddled with enormous setbacks, Fritz didn’t stand down, he stood up. Fritz didn’t crawl under his desk or hide from public view, he simply found a different way to serve. He went from being driven around with tons of Secret Service and meeting with world leaders and negotiating international treaties to going into Lunds, grocery shopping on his own, and happily ending his visit with a long engaged talk about Mideast peace with the high school kid at the checkout counter. That happened.
You see, being humble meant that it was much easier to be resilient. Being grounded meant that no matter how high he had risen, there was always a place to come home. That place was here. That place was us.
This week in Washington we celebrated the life of one of Fritz’s friends, someone who had worked for him on his Presidential campaign: the incredible Madeleine Albright. The two of them shared not only an unshakeable belief in democracy and human rights, but also a dry wit and a rare ability to self-reflect on their lives, flaws and all.
As Secretary Albright once wrote: “Lives are necessarily untidy and uneven… and it is important to have a guiding star.”
That, for us, was Walter Mondale. The son of a minister, who went from a small town in southern Minnesota to the world stage, and on his way up, he never lost his way. He was—and is—our guiding star. He was—and is—our North Star.
Now it is my distinct honor to introduce you to a friend of Fritz’s. Just as Walter Mondale believed in the dignity of all people, the promise of America to take care of our people—so does our honored guest.
President Joseph R. Biden has taken the reins of our country at an unparalleled time. He is leading at a moment when we must emerge from this pandemic not as a country in 300-plus million silos, but as one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. President Biden has led our nation and the democracies of the world to stand up to the inhuman barbarism of Vladimir Putin and stand with the bright blue and yellow, and the courage and conviction of the people of Ukraine.
As Walter Mondale once wrote, our founders believed that America “needs leaders who transcend the politics of the moment and pursue the nation’s long term aspirations.… leaders who will take care of the Constitution, understanding that they are only custodians of an ideal.” That describes, of course, Walter Mondale but that also describes his good friend Joe Biden.
President Biden served with Walter Mondale in the Senate. When then-candidate Obama asked Joe Biden to be his Vice President in this very state, the first call Joe Biden made was to Fritz. He relied on him. And on Fritz’s last day on Earth, our President was there on the phone with him.
Mr. President—Vice President Mondale loved you. He believed in you. He trusted you with our country’s future. And he is looking down from the heavens today smiling, so proud you are here in his beloved state of Minnesota.
Friends—it is now my honor to introduce to you the President of the United States, Joe Biden.