Remembering Walter Mondale
America, Norway, and the world mourn the loss of a great Norwegian American
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
It with great sadness that our newspaper shares the news of the death of one of our nation’s most dedicated public servants and patriots, Walter Frederick “Fritz” Mondale (Jan. 5, 1928 – April 19, 2021).
For Norwegian Americans and Norwegians, this sense of loss is particularly profound, as Mondale is honored not only for his service to the United States but to Norway as well, having served as an ambassador for transatlantic relations, both in official and unofficial capacities.
A life of purpose and service
Mondale’s illustrious career has been lauded in the mainstream media, as announcements of his death have been published in all major news channels around the world, his accomplishments so vast, that it is impossible to list them all in an obituary. He is, of course, most remembered as the 42nd vice president of the United States from 1977 to 1981 under President Jimmy Carter. Mondale is recognized for having redefined the role of the vice president, having taken an active role in the administration.
Throughout his political life, Mondale fought tirelessly for social justice and equality. He made history when he chose Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman vice-presidential candidate from a major party. I can remember what an impression this made on me and so many other young women of the day. While Mondale and Ferraro suffered a crushing defeat against the Reagan-Bush ticket, a glass ceiling had been broken, paving the way for future generations.
A special gift
Since Mondale’s passing, social media has been flooded with photos and posts sharing memories. He brightened and inspired the lives of people everywhere, and here I can give a personal testimonial to his extraordinary charisma and the effect it had on the people he met. Even a brief encounter could have a lasting impact.
When I graduated from the Department of Scandinavian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle in the spring of 1979, I had the good fortune to be gifted a trip to Washington, D.C. There were two purposes to my trip: one to see our nation’s capital, and the other to visit my best friend, who was serving in an internship in the White House. The latter, of course, opened some doors, and that is where I got to meet Walter Mondale.
One afternoon, we were walking from the Old Executive Building to tour the Oval Office and the White House. We were a little disappointed that we would not get to see President Carter, who had gone to Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania after the accident there. But who should we have the good luck to run into other than Walter Mondale. I so clearly recall how he suddenly appeared in the corridor from a side door with his Secret Service agents. We didn’t look dangerous, of course, but we were surprised—and delighted—when he took the time to introduce himself and talk to us.
I remember so well when he asked me what I was doing in D.C. and I told him that I had just earned my degree in Scandinavian Languages and Literature from the U.W. in Seattle, and he burst out, “How wonderful!” This was honestly not always the reply that I was used to hearing, with the usual question, “What in the world are you going to do with that?”
I learned that the vice president had just returned from a trip to his ancestral home in Mundal in Sogn, Norway, which he spoke of with enthusiasm. I told him that I had plans to continue studying the Scandinavian languages and that I planned to visit Norway that summer. This was all met with great interest, before Mondale asked us if we liked music.
“Do we!” we exclaimed, “We’re both musicians!”
“Well, I have something for you,” he said. “If you are available tonight, there will be two tickets for the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. “I hope you will enjoy the concert.”
Enjoy the concert—it was the experience of a lifetime! When we arrived at the box office, there was a valet there to escort us up to the presidential box, where I got to sit in none other than seat No.1, the president’s vacant spot while he was up at Three Mile Island. We two college girls were treated like VIPs for the evening, with personal greetings from maestro Leonard Bernstein, who came up to the box before the concert to welcome us. At one point, I even wondered if I were dreaming.
It is this kindness and generosity of spirit that Mondale will be remembered for, how he made indelible impressions on all those he met and inspired them on to better things. The memory of that meeting gave me a strong sense of purpose in what I was doing even at that young age, and I have never forgotten that chance brief encounter that I was so fortunate to have.
In recent days, I have heard many stories from others about how Mondale influenced their lives. My friend Christina Carleton, executive director at Norway House, shared how Mondale gave her her first professional job, even when others thought she was too young. He was as inspiration and support to her throughout the years, and, of course, he was absolutely right in his choice. It was this talent for bringing out the best in people that was his gift.
A heart for Norway
Mondale’s paternal grandparents were Norwegian immigrants to Minnesota, and he never failed to express his interest and support for Norway. In later years, he served on the executive committee of the Peace Prize Forum, an annual conference cosponsored by the Norwegian Nobel Institute. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bergen in 2015, and in 2007, Mondale was named Honorary Consul-General of Norway, representing the state in Minnesota. He was a strong supporter of Norway House, the National Norwegian Center in Minneapolis, and a much beloved member of the Norwegian-American community there. He will be greatly missed by his many friends, colleagues, and people everywhere around the globe.
Do you have a memory of Walter Mondale to share? Send it to Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.