George McGovern: The greatest man I ever knew

Joe Grandmaison told me, ‘George McGovern will never disappoint you as a human being.’ He was absolutely correct

I was honored in December 1983 to be asked to work as the New Hampshire coordinator for George McGovern’s presidential primary campaign. The only reason I was asked to do it was that by the time he decided to run again for the presidency all the folks who knew how to run campaigns were already taken. When asked by a reporter why I was doing this, I replied, “Because George McGovern asked me to.”

George McGovern was a true pro-life Democrat. On the abortion question, he believed that the decision on abortion law should be made by each state, and beyond that he believed in policies that supported life. Despite, or perhaps because of, his service as a B-24 bomber pilot who flew 35 missions with his crew over Europe in 1944 and 1945, George McGovern became a determined champion of peace.

He was an architect, along with his great Republican friend Sen. Bob Dole, of programs to feed the hungry and most vulnerable. These included things like Women Infants and Children (WIC), food stamps and the school lunch programs. He wanted us as a country to care for the poor, a group hardly mentioned in today’s political rhetoric.

He believed in education, never voted against any bill for veterans’ benefits and was a champion of rights for minorities and women. He also was one of the early voices for cleaning up and caring for the environment.

His policies certainly echoed the teachings of Jesus, who also taught peace, non-violence, caring for our fellow human beings and working to build a kingdom of God on earth.

George didn’t talk a lot about religion, although he used to answer questions about prayer in school by saying, “As long as there are math tests, there will always be prayer in school.” But he treated people, even those who disagreed with him, with warmth and respect.

I heard him speak many times about the importance of both liberals and conservatives in moving the country ahead. He said that liberals came up with ideas, but that conservatives were there to ask, “Do we need it? How will we pay for it?”

I was amazed at some of his close political friends, including Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr.

George McGovern was the greatest man I have ever known and one of the very nicest. Joe Grandmaison said to me when I took the position on McGovern’s campaign, “Woody, George McGovern will never disappoint you as a human being.” Joe was absolutely correct.

George was portrayed by the Nixon folks as weak and untrustworthy. They were wrong, and President Nixon himself was greatly moved when George traveled to California to attend Pat Nixon’s funeral. When asked why he came there after the way Richard Nixon treated him in the campaign, he replied that “campaigns end.” He also told me when I asked him that “there isn’t anyone who met Pat Nixon who didn’t like her.”

One of the 1972 Nixon bumper stickers read, “Will Rogers never met anyone he didn’t like. Will Rogers never met George McGovern.” If he had, Will Rogers would have liked George McGovern. I am proud of our friendship, which has lasted since the end of the 1984 campaign. We honor him by continuing to work for peace, justice, equal rights for all, a clean environment and caring for each other, especially the poor. These are the values he called America home to in 1972 and which we should continue to work for in today’s world.

Thanks to the New Hampshire primary, I got the opportunity to get to know George McGovern, a true Christian and patriot and a wonderful human being. I close with the words of George’s friend Tom Daschle: “There are millions of children all over the world who are less hungry and live better lives because of his work. In these politically polarized times, he and Bob Dole showed us all what bipartisan achievement should look like.”

Woody Woodland, a former radio talk show host, is minister of the New Boston Community Church. In 1983 he was the New Hampshire coordinator of the McGovern for President campaign.

Categories: Opinion