Guest Commentary: Senator Tim Johnson remembers McGovern’s lifetime of service

By U.S. Senator Tim Johnson


With such a long, accomplished life, it is difficult to fully describe the impact George McGovern had on our world. In each chapter of his life, his contributions to our society were gigantic. His accomplishments have already been the subject of many books, and his legacy will live on forever.

I was just nine years old when George was elected to Congress. As a young man, I followed his career closely as he became increasingly influential. To see a man from Mitchell become a leading voice on the biggest issues of the day was inspiring to me and many other young South Dakotans. This inspiration continued throughout all of George's life. Even in these last few years, he spent time with South Dakota students, which undoubtedly inspired them to think big about their futures and how they can have an impact on our world.

Although George's 1972 Presidential Race against Richard Nixon gets a lot of attention, the work he did before and after his time in public office was incredible. George summed it up best last month when he wrote an article for the Washington Post on losing the 1972 Race. George wrote that while the loss was a significant personal setback, "I have acknowledged it, absorbed it and integrated it into the rest of the long life I have been privileged to lead. Before that race, I had survived 35 missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II; married Eleanor Stegeberg, the love of my life; had five children; completed a PhD in history; and had a successful career in politics and government service."

Instead of lamenting about losing the election, George went back to work. George made our world a better place through his work on many issues, including agriculture and foreign policy. But his greatest public policy achievement has to be his work on hunger issues. What drove George to work tirelessly to combat hunger worldwide was his recognition that we are fortunate to live in a country with food abundance. He knew that so many individuals across the world were not as lucky. George often noted that hunger is a political condition that is 100 percent curable. In our country and across the world, there are countless individuals who never knew George but are no longer suffering from hunger because of his work.

It is sad to lose George, but we will be able to see his impact on the world for decades to come. South Dakotans and folks across the U.S. and world are thankful for his long life of service. Personally, I am thankful for George's friendship and advice. And I think I speak for many South Dakotans who grew up following his career when I say that I am thankful to George for showing us that a kid from South Dakota can have a major impact on the world. 

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