BY TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic, Mitchell
9:41 PM AKDT, October 26, 2012
SIOUX FALLS --
There was a plethora of big-name politicians at the Thursday prayer service and Friday funeral for George McGovern.
Several prominent Democrats were in the audience Thursday: Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Tim Johnson, who spoke of his friendship with and deep respect for McGovern; and former Sen. Tom Daschle, who sat by Biden but did not speak Thursday. Instead, he would offer reflections Friday. Former Sen. James Abourezk was also there. Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin helped preside at the event with former legislator Scott Heidepriem, the 2010 Democratic candidate for governor.
One man who came in as the Thursday event was starting and stood quietly through the entire service, first in the balcony and then on the main floor, drew little attention.
It was Gary Hart, who served as McGovern’s campaign manager in 1972 and then served two terms in the Senate from Colorado and ran for president in 1984 and 1988. Looking relatively unchanged from his days in the national spotlight, other than his dark hair now being gray/white, Hart departed as the service ended.
He reappeared Friday, speaking at the memorial service, even though he wasn’t on the program, and introducing himself as "Gary Hart of Colorado."
Hart said McGovern "was there" for America, standing up for the principles he believed in throughout his career.
Hart said McGovern was a proud liberal who fought dangerous bomber missions, spoke out for the causes he believed in, and continues to inspire people.
"George McGovern’s voice is not gone, it is simply waiting new voices of conscience to have the courage of their conviction," he said, departing to loud applause.
Daschle said McGovern preached the gospel better than anyone he knew, and did so through his deeds, actions and words.
He lived up to his faith with his political actions, Daschle said, and sent a message to others with his courage and stands.
He said McGovern earned high praise.
"George’s life wasn’t an easy one," Daschle said. "He fought many battles other than the ones in the airplane."
Daschle also told a story from McGovern’s autobiography "Grassroots" that had the audience laughing loudly.
McGovern, working in the 1950s as the leader of the state Democratic Party, was alone at the South Dakota State Fair with no literature to hand out, no coffee to serve and no elected officials to introduce people to when they stopped by, while the Republicans had all that plus a real live elephant.
A Democrat stopped by and offered McGovern the use of his donkey. McGovern drove 14 miles to pick the animal up and delivered him back to the fair in his old Chevrolet.
The donkey kicked out a window, relieved itself on a nun and bit a child.
" ‘I’ve never trusted donkeys since, George wrote,’ " Daschle said. " ‘They deserve to be called asses.’ "
Daschle said he realized the value of that statement later when he served as the leader of Senate Democrats.
Two politicians named McGovern spoke on Thursday and Friday to honor McGovern.
One was Matt McGovern, the late senator’s grandson who dropped his last name of Rowen to work and run under a name far better known to South Dakotans. He is running this year for a seat on the Public Utilities Commission. The other was Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who is not related to George McGovern.
Jim McGovern said George was his "inspiration" and "most treasured friend."
"It was so comforting to have him around," the Massachusetts congressman said.
"Our country missed a tremendous opportunity in 1972," he said.
But he said George McGovern’s enduring legacy was feeding people in need, standing up for those who needed a champion, and being a hero to young people who admired him 40 years ago and grew to become leaders and politicians who believed as he did.
Jim McGovern said as a seventh-grader, he did all he could for George McGovern -- and he noted dryly that his state was the sole one to support McGovern in the 1972 election. He later worked as an intern in McGovern’s Senate office.
He said people often tell him how much they admired his father, and are shocked when he tells them his dad ran a liquor store in Worcester, Mass.
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