WASHINGTON — President Biden paid tribute on Sunday to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, hailing “one in all the nice giants of American history” who inspired him and plenty of other Americans to consider in public service even in dark times.
Mr. Biden flew to Minneapolis for a memorial service that had been postponed for a 12 months due to coronavirus pandemic to honor Mr. Mondale, a friend of 5 a long time and colleague from their days within the Senate who died in his sleep in April 2021 at age 93.
“It’s as much as each of us to reflect that light that Fritz was all about, to reflect Fritz’s goodness and style, the way in which he made people feel, irrespective of who you were,” said Mr. Biden, using the previous vice chairman’s nickname. “Just imagine what our nation could achieve if we followed Fritz’s example of honor, decency, integrity, literally only a service for the common good. There can be nothing — nothing, nothing, nothing — beyond our reach.”
It was Mr. Biden’s second memorial service in only five days, following one last week for former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at Washington National Cathedral. But Mr. Mondale had no desire to have his body lie in state or to be remembered in a grand celebration within the nation’s capital, preferring a less complicated, more characteristically humble memorial in his home state of Minnesota.
There was, indeed, a quintessentially “Minnesota nice” quality to the event. Eulogists spoke of Mr. Mondale’s Norwegian stoicism, Midwestern values and dedication to helping others. The marching band from his cherished University of Minnesota played the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Lillian Hochman, a young Minnesota actress, sang “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie,” a Mondale favorite.
Mr. Mondale was among the many Democratic senators who encouraged Mr. Biden to take his seat after winning the 1972 election regardless that the candidate’s wife and daughter had just died in a tragic auto accident. The 2 went on to serve together within the Senate for 4 years and for one more 4 years when Mr. Mondale was vice chairman under Jimmy Carter. Mr. Mondale and Mr. Biden were each exemplars of a distinct generation of Washington Democrats that has now mostly passed from the scene.
While serving under Mr. Carter from 1977 to 1981, Mr. Mondale set a typical for the vice presidency that later benefited Mr. Biden. Reasonably than simply a decorative figure whose major job was checking on the health of the president each morning, as most of his predecessors had been, Mr. Mondale got down to make the vice chairman a central figure in Mr. Carter’s administration.
He negotiated to be the primary vice chairman to have an office within the West Wing, just down the hall and across the corner from the Oval Office, and he insisted on having a voice in most of the main problems with the day. His memo to Mr. Carter outlining his expansive view of the job later became a template for many if not the entire vice presidents who followed — including Mr. Biden, who consulted it when he assumed the office under President Barack Obama.
Mr. Mondale also paved the way in which for the present holder of his old job. During his 1984 campaign for president, he chosen Representative Geraldine Ferraro of Latest York as his running mate, making her the primary woman to run on a major-party ticket for vice chairman, although their bid fell short. Thirty-six years later, Vice President Kamala Harris broke that tumbler ceiling as a part of Mr. Biden’s ticket.
But Mr. Mondale’s campaign in 1984 marked a low point for Democrats as he lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan, capturing only Minnesota and the District of Columbia. Despondent Democrats, including Mr. Biden, who ran for president unsuccessfully 4 years later, saw the campaign as a model for what to not do, most notably Mr. Mondale’s frank admission that he would raise taxes. Mr. Mondale nonetheless took his defeat with dignity and later went on to function ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and self-described “Mondale geek,” noted that Mr. Mondale set an example not only in victory but in defeat.
“None of it was easy,” she said. “But when saddled with enormous setbacks, Fritz didn’t stand down, he stood up. He didn’t crawl under his desk or hide from public view, he simply found a distinct method to serve.”
Jon Meacham, the presidential historian who delivered the keynote eulogy on Sunday, said that there have been safer cars, cleaner rivers, children who wouldn’t go hungry, and girls and Black Americans who would have greater opportunities due to Mr. Mondale.
“He never stopped believing on this country,” Mr. Meacham said. “He never stopped fighting for its people. Thankfully, he never stopped defending democracy. He never stopped and nor, in his memory, must we.”