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