Joan Mondale dies at 83: 'Joan of Art,' political helpmate


Joan Mondale, ardent arts advocate and the wife of former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, died Monday. She was 83. A family spokesperson said her husband and two sons were with her, along with other family members.

Among those offering condolences to the Mondale family were President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the Associated Press reports. Obama hailed Mondale for her contributions to arts and global understanding.

Former President Bill Clinton said Mondale was as "graceful in her role as our nation's Second Lady as she was unwavering in her support of art and artists."

WCCO reports Joan Mondale's death was announced in a statement released by Westminster Presbyterian Church. The statement quotes Walter Mondale saying: "We are grateful for the expressions of love and support we have received. Joan was greatly loved by many. We will miss her dearly.”

The Mondale family had announced on Sunday that the former second lady was entering hospice care.

Joan Mondale was best known for her love of the arts and as a partner to her husband in his political career. She served on the boards of the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Orchestra and other arts organizations. In 2008 the group Americans for the Arts presented Mondale with their Public Art Network Award.

She was born Joan Adams in Eugene, Oregon, in 1930. Her family moved to Minnesota when her father became chaplain at Macalester College.

She graduated from Macalester College in 1952 and married Walter Mondale in 1955, less than two months after meeting him on a blind date arranged by her sister. He had graduated from Macalester a few years earlier.

The family entered politics when Walter Mondale became Minnesota attorney general in 1960.

The Pioneer Press reports the couple moved to Washington D.C. when Mondale was recruited in 1976 to fill Vice President Hubert Humphrey's Senate seat.

Joan Mondale was raising the couple's three children; Ted, William and a daughter, Eleanor, who died in 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer.

In 1976, when Walter Mondale was elected Jimmy Carter's vice president, Joan Mondale gained a national stage from which to pursue her lifelong mission to promote the arts.

President Jimmy Carter named Joan Mondale to chair the Council on the Arts and Humanities and she acquired the nickname Joan of Art.

She was passionate about pottery, and took lessons from a master potter while in D.C.

Joan used the official residence to showcase the work of American craft artists.

But her chance at becoming first lady was crushed when Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in 1984.

In 2010 Walter Mondale told Minnesota Public Radio that Joan is his rock and credited her with influencing his ideas throughout his political career.

Bloomberg News cited the former vice-president's memoir when it said she helped him craft his eventual opposition to the Vietnam War and put greater emphasis on gender equity. In his losing 1984 presidential bid, he made history by naming a woman as his running mate.

“I sometimes wondered if Joan knew what she was getting into as a politician’s wife,” he wrote. “But of course she did. Some political spouses love the spotlight, some hate it. Joan was just extremely good at it -- a real soldier and a great campaigner.”

A service is scheduled for Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.

In a statement, President Obama wrote, "Our thoughts and prayers are with Vice President Mondale and his family today as we remember with gratitude 'Joan of Art, and her service to our nation.'"

Social media Monday night was flooded with condolences.

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