There will be many well-deserved accolades from around the world and obituaries about how he transformed the vice presidency. And probably some painful reminders of Election Day in 1984 where he lost 49 out of 50 states. I will read them all and likely can't add anything substantive to them.
Instead, I can tell you a little more about the man, the person and personality that he religiously hid from the cameras. When I was 23, I was hired as a press secretary for his 1984 presidential campaign and got to see a side of him that was different from his public image as the stoic Norwegian. Mondale was a very funny man. He loved a good prank and was downright silly and goofy when he was around his kids.
He really didn't like to have the staff around when it was family time, but because I was around the same age as his kids, I was sent several times along with the family on their vacations. Someone probably figured he just might think of me as one of his own -- making him feel less like he was still working. It didn't work, though. Whenever I walked in the room, he'd say something like, "Here's Joe saying it's time to interrupt my vacation with more important calls." He said it with a smile and a purpose. He cherished the time with his wife, Joan, and the kids (I've never seen a man who enjoyed his kids more).
His wit could also sometimes have a bite. After his election loss, the family traveled to the Caribbean for a much- needed break. One afternoon, I went over to the house where they were staying and he seemed a little agitated.
It seems he learned that there were several other politicians who had just lost elections, vacationing on the same block. He asked if the campaign was getting the group loser rate for the house. I just tried to blend into the tacky wallpaper.
In many ways, I owe a great deal of my career to him.
One life-changing moment comes to mind that helped to solidify my credibility with reporters.
Mondale was four hours north of Duluth, Minnesota, on a fishing trip -- another vacation trip for me -- after the DNC convention. He'd put out a statement about Ronald Reagan's convention speech that some back in DC didn't like. I was sent to find him before he got off the boat to tell him to avoid the reporters.
Now this was a small town and the press rightly figured if I was traveling someplace it was worth following me as it was likely I was looking for his boat. By the time the boat docked, I had a full-blown press stakeout at the end of the dock.
I climbed aboard the boat and explained to him the situation. It got kind of loud, so much so the press could hear it. He put up a good fight but finally agreed to not take questions from the waiting press. As we were leaving the boat, he sent me back to retrieve something. It was only when I looked to the end of the dock that I realized it was just a ruse to get me out of the way.
He strode to the end of the dock and told the press he wasn't really interested in talking to them, but he'd been convinced by me -- he even alluded to the raised voices -- that talking to the press was always the right thing. By the end of the press conference, DC headquarters was furious with me, but I was a hero in the press corps. I wanted to explain everything, but it was too good a story to correct.
Mondale loved his staff. Many worked for him for decades both in Minnesota and DC. He especially loved the young staffers, those who worked incredible hours for very little pay. His field organizers in 1983 dubbed themselves the "Hogs." You might think a stoic presidential candidate would consider this as, well, unpresidential. But he loved it, took great pride in it and gathered on many occasions at "Hog" reunions.
I spent an hour with him two summers ago interviewing him for my podcast series
on what it was like to lose a presidential election. I was surprised when he recounted how deeply he'd felt the loss. He talked about not sleeping for several weeks but waiting until everyone was asleep before leaving the bedroom so no one would worry. At the time, the loss hurt him personally, but he expressed more concern about the future of the country with the Reagan victory.
During the interview, he spoke fondly of all the people he met traveling the country and all the staff that were so devoted to him. On the day after his election loss, he gathered the staff together to thank them. He talked about how losing was hard, but all the hard work was not for naught. I remember to this day his next line. "The seeds of every victory are sown in defeat." He urged all of us to stay at it because the fight was worth it. And many did, populating the campaigns and governments of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
I'd spent nearly the whole campaign puzzling over how to share his real personality on television with the country. We all know now that the stoic Norwegian didn't sell that well. With about five days to go before the election, he did a joint interview with his wife, Joan. It was magic. She made him laugh, made him say some goofy things and made him show America who he really was. More moments like that should have been shared with the public during the campaign. Perhaps it would have made a big difference in the election's outcome. But I'm so thankful that I got to see this side of him regularly.
I know he's happy to be reunited with Joan and his daughter, Eleanor, and at peace knowing he made a real difference in many lives.