Dignitaries, family bid farewell to Joan Mondale

MINNEAPOLIS - Hundreds crowded into Westminster Presbyterian Church Saturday to honor Joan Mondale, and thank her for her service to Minnesotans and the fine arts world.

Mondale, the wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, was 83 when she died Monday in Minneapolis.

The speakers included former President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Joe Biden, who said he was honored that his friend "Fritz" asked him to speak at the service.

"My personal prayer for all of you in this congregation is that we may each be blessed with our own Joan," Biden remarked.

"And may God bless those among us who may never know such peace, but you have Fritz."

Biden said that Joan and Walter Mondale warmly welcomed him to the Senate in 1973 weeks after losing his first wife and daughter in a car accident.

"Joan was there when I got there, and so were you Fritz. You weren't just saying the right things, you embraced me."

And he said Joan was ready to give advice to his second wife, Dr. Jill Biden, when she began to inhabit the role of vice president's spouse.

Biden said he still hears from Japanese diplomats who fondly recall Joan Mondale's highly publicized works with clay pots while her husband was ambassador to Japan.

"They said, 'We miss Joan Mondale.' They didn't miss you, Fritz. They missed Joan Mondale!" he said, ribbing his former senate colleague.

President Carter recalled how thoroughly Joan Mondale embraced her role as liaison to the arts and humanities communities, and how dedicated she was to the notion of getting the federal government to more fully support artists and fans of art.

"Until I met Joan Mondale I thought Rosalyn was the most persistent woman on earth," Carter laughed, referring to former First Lady Rosalyn Carter, who made the trip with him to Minnesota.

Carter said he recently reviewed his diary notes from 1978 and found 22 different entries about communication from Joan Mondale about the arts.

He drew sustained applause from the crowd when he shared one of his diary entries, which read, "My time choosing the members and directors of the endowment for the arts and the humanities exceeds the time I have spent bringing peace to the Middle East!"

Carter said, however, Joan's positive impact on the art world is one of the lasting legacies of the Carter-Mondale White House from 1977 to 1981.

Mondale's younger sister Jane Canby said that even as a teenager Joan had the goal of changing the world for the better. And the sum total of her life was a realization of that.

"She did make a more civilized community around her wherever she was. And her core, or soul if you will, was inspired by the beliefs of our father, a man of deep personal faith."

She said that no matter how many things she accomplished, or which circles she was moving in Washington DC or Japan, her sister remained modest and deflected praise.

Canby said Joan was a study in grace through tough times such as the loss of her daughter Eleanor Mondale Poling in 2011, and political losses including the 1984 presidential election.

At the end of the service, a group of bagpipe players led a procession to a private reception at Orchestra Hall. Walter Mondale, sons Bill and Ted walked down Nicollet Mall with the others, greeting those who'd attended the service.


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