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Macalester Mourns the Loss of Walter F. Mondale ’50

A message from President Suzanne Rivera

Dear Macalester community: 

Tonight we mourn an immense loss and reflect on an incredible legacy: former Vice President Walter F. Mondale ’50 has died at the age of 93. Beginning 75 years ago when Macalester’s Class of 1950 elected him freshman class president, Vice President Mondale dove wholeheartedly into a vibrant life of public service and leadership.

In 1946, the future Vice President followed his older brother to Macalester from Elmore, a small town in southern Minnesota. On campus, he studied political science, competed in debate, and traveled abroad to England as one of 10 Mac students selected for the Student Project for Amity among Nations (SPAN) program.

He also met mentors at Macalester who would help shape his political career, including former political science professor Hubert H. Humphrey, who was Minneapolis’s mayor in the late 1940s. “I started to get a glimmer of history and of what people can do when they work together,” Vice President Mondale told Nick Coleman in a 2017 Macalester Today interview. “And I got an excitement about the decency of public policy that has stuck with me ever since.” He attended Macalester for two years, then graduated from the University of Minnesota and later the university’s law school, after serving as a corporal in the U.S. army.

Vice President Mondale went on to an extraordinary career as a public servant. He worked as a lawyer, then Minnesota’s attorney general, then as a U.S. Senator for 12 years. In 1976, he was elected Vice President of the United States under President Jimmy Carter. The first Vice President to have a White House office, he helped model a more involved role for the vice presidency and championed human rights. Vice President Mondale also was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1984 and, for three years in the 1990s, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. In 2002, Vice President Mondale replaced U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone on the ballot for Wellstone’s Minnesota senate seat after Wellstone died in a plane crash days before the election. He spent the final years of his career as senior counsel at Minneapolis’s Dorsey & Whitney law firm, while also serving as a director on several nonprofit and corporate boards, and remaining active in politics, locally and nationally.

Throughout their lives, he and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale ’52, stayed connected to Macalester. Although the couple didn’t meet in college, they were married by Joan’s father, longtime Macalester chaplain Rev. John Maxwell Adams, in Macalester’s student center in 1955. Joan—a passionate advocate for the arts, locally and internationally—served for 21 years on the college’s Board of Trustees, where her work included driving a proposal that dedicates part of every Macalester construction budget to public art. The Mondales had been married for 58 years when Joan died in 2014 and, later that year, Macalester named its studio art building the Joan Adams Mondale Hall of Studio Art in her honor. Donors also helped establish the Joan Adams Mondale Endowed Scholarship to support arts students with financial need. Over the years, Vice President Mondale returned to campus for class visits and three Commencement speeches, as well as opening convocation in 2011. We are incredibly grateful for the Mondale family’s decades of engagement in the Mac community.

Beginning at Macalester and continuing all over the world, Vice President Mondale’s record of service and leadership creates a legacy that will stretch far into the future. When he spoke to the Class of 2015 at Commencement that year, he encouraged the new graduates to take action in their communities, whether or not they pursued careers in public service. He urged them to communicate across differences, challenge the status quo, and improve our communities for every person in them. “Your education here has taught you how to live a life of action, engagement, and service,” Vice President Mondale said in his remarks that day. “The world needs Macalester alumni to speak up, listen, and work together to fight for change.”

Tonight, we hold the Mondale family in our thoughts as they grieve. May we honor Vice President Mondale’s memory through our own actions, and carry forward the spirit that defined his leadership.

April 19, 2021