George McGovern, biographical highlights

Story highlights

  • McGovern's 1972 presidential bid was based on his opposition to the Vietnam War
  • He established a foundation to fund research on alcoholism after his daughter's death
  • He and former Sen. Bob Dole set up a program to provide school lunches in developing countries
  • McGovern flew 35 combat missions in WW II and received the Distinguished Flying Cross

George Stanley McGovern, a stalwart liberal from South Dakota who served in the U.S. House and Senate for many years, died Sunday. Following are biographical details and highlights of his career.


• Birth date: July 19, 1922

• Birth place: Avon, South Dakota

• Parents: Joseph, minister, and Frances (McLean) McGovern

• Marriage: Eleanor (Stegeberg) McGovern

• Children: Mary, Steven, Teresa (d. 1994 at age 45), Susan, Ann

• Education: Dakota Wesleyan University, B.A., 1945

Northwestern University, M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1953

• Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1943 - 1945, 1st Lieutenant.

• Religion: Methodist

Opinion: McGovern, a strong man who overcame defeat

Other Facts:

• He interrupted his college studies to enlist in the military right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

• McGovern flew a B-24 in 35 combat missions over Europe during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.


• 1949 - 1953 - Assistant professor of history and political science at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, his alma mater.

• 1953 - 1955 - Executive secretary of the South Dakota Democratic Party.

• 1957 - 1961 - U.S. Representative, representing South Dakota's First District.

• 1961 - 1962 - Director of Food for Peace Program and special assistant to President John F. Kennedy.

• 1962 - Elected to the U.S. Senate. Re-elected in 1968 and 1974.

• September 1971 - Embarks on a fact-finding mission to South Vietnam regarding American involvement in the Vietnam War.

• 1972 - Named as the Democratic Party's nominee for president. His presidential campaign is based on his opposition to the Vietnam War.

• 1972 - Loses the presidential election to Richard Nixon by a landslide (60.7% to 37.5%), carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, for 17 Electoral College votes.

• 1975 - Is widely criticized for visiting Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana as an attempt to improve U.S.-Cuban relations.

• 1980 - Loses re-election to a fourth term as senator.

• September 13, 1983 - Announces his candidacy for president in the 1984 election.

• March 14, 1984 - Drops out of the presidential race after a third-place finish in the Massachusetts primary.

• April 14, 1984 - Hosts "Saturday Night Live."

• 1991 - 1998 - President of the Middle East Policy Council.

• 1994 - Establishes the McGovern Family Foundation to fund research on alcoholism after his daughter Teresa's death.

• 1998 - 2001 - U.S. ambassador to United Nations Agencies on Food and Agriculture.

• August 9, 2000 - Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

• 2000 - McGovern and former Sen. Bob Dole establish a program to provide school lunches for poor children in developing countries. The McGovern-Dole Program is signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

• 2001 - United Nations global ambassador on world hunger.

• October 7, 2006 - The George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Public Leadership and Justice is dedicated on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus.

• January 12, 2007 - Delivers an anti-Iraq war speech to House Democrats.

• October 16, 2008 - Receives the World Food Prize (with Bob Dole) at a ceremony at the Iowa state Capitol in Des Moines.

• October 25-27, 2011 - Hospitalized in South Dakota for fatigue.

• December 2, 2011 - Taken to a South Dakota hospital after falling at Dakota Wesleyan University.

• April 2012 - Treated in a Florida hospital for "brief transient spells where he passes out and becomes verbally unresponsive."

• October 15, 2012 - Admitted to the Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

• October 21, 2012 - Dies at the Dougherty Hospice House at the age of 90.

Opinion: Ahead of his time


"War against Want: America's Food for Peace Program," 1964

"A Time of War, a Time of Peace," 1968

"The Great Coalfield War," with Leonard Guttridge, 1972

"McGovern: The Man and His Beliefs," 1972

"An American Journey: The Presidential Campaign Speeches of George McGovern," 1974

"Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Korea," with Richard Stilwell, 1977

"Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern," 1977

"Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism," 1997

"The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time," 2001

"Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," 2006

"Leadership and Service: An Introduction," 2008

"Abraham Lincoln," 2008

"What It Means to Be a Democrat," 2011

Politicians pay tribute

Web sites:

McGovern Center Bio

McGovern Library

Biographical Directory of the United States Government