MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Political dignitaries joined family members at Saturday’s memorial service for Joan Mondale, the wife of a former vice president who was remembered as “a highly charged battery of positive energy” for her passion and persistence about arts, politics and community.
Vice President Joe Biden, former President Jimmy Carter and their spouses Jill and Rosalynn were at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis to pay tribute to Walter Mondale’s devoted partner, who died Monday at age 83 after an extended illness. Leading Minnesota officials, along with Japan’s consul general, filled rows of pews at the two-hour service.
Carter credited Joan Mondale for bolstering a facet of his legacy: a commitment to art and artists across America and beyond. He recalled her as dogged in pushing his administration to build lasting support for the fine arts.
“I tried to find a phrase to describe Joan, and I found this one: ‘Live your life as though it was a work of art,’” Carter said.
Joan Mondale leveraged the political prominence of her husband to focus national attention on arts and culture, also transforming the role of second lady in the process. He was vice president in the 1970s, a Democratic nominee for president in the 1980s and an ambassador to Japan in the 1990s.
Japan was represented by Consul General Masaharu Yoshida. Art Zegelbone, who was a U.S. cultural affairs officer in Tokyo when the Mondales occupied the embassy there, said she drew instant adoration abroad, in part by immersing herself in local culture. An avid potter, she often gave away the cups and bowls she made as gestures of goodwill.
“All around Japan are these small testaments to Joan, to what she did and what was most important to her” Zegelbone said before describing her as the “battery of positive energy.”
Walter Mondale mostly sat stoically as others shared stories about his wife of 58 years. But tales by Biden, Carter and others about how his plucky wife often upstaged him drew his laughter.
Biden praised not only Joan Mondale’s commitment to the arts, but also her activism on issues such as equal pay and rights for women.
“Joan was as vocal and as present and as consistent in her feeling on those aspects of people’s lives ... as she seemed to be about art,” he said.
The Mondales’ two sons, William and Ted, read from Scripture. So did musician Chan Poling, who was married to the couple’s daughter, Eleanor. She died a few years ago after a battle with brain cancer.
Joan’s two sisters were also in attendance. One, Jane Canby, described her older sister as the consummate Girl Scout, collecting badges throughout life in her pursuit of “a more civilized community.”