May 2, 2022
Biden Gives Remarks At Memorial Service For Former Vice President Walter Mondale 5/01/22 Transcript
Biden Gives Remarks At Memorial Service For Former Vice President Walter Mondale 5/01/22. Read the transcript here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
President Joe Biden: (01:02)
What Fritz is really saying, looking down is, “Joe, hide your Irish Catholic enthusiasm a little bit and just be more Norwegian.” The generous introduction. You know, I got a chance to talk with the family a little bit earlier and trying to console them, and I got emotional. But as my grandfather Finny would say, “That’s the Irish in me.” You know, I served with Fritz time. He became a good and close friend. I was a kid when I got elected. I wasn’t even known to be sworn in, I was only 29-years-old. And because everything’s based on seniority in the Senate, I got to hang out with folks like Fritz and Hubert long before you’d ordinarily at my age. Because by the time I was there a second term, I was chairman of some major committees.
President Joe Biden: (02:17)
And so, I’m going to talk more today about Fritz and what he’d pretend didn’t exist, but Fritz’s sense of empathy. Fritz had a special way about him that I don’t think he would talk about. I could be wrong, but I never heard him talk about it. Now there was a question that Fritz famously asked staffers who came to work for him. He’d say, “On the breakfast plate, what’s the difference between the eggs and the bacon?” Senators Smith and Klobuchar know the answer, by supplying the eggs, the chicken made a contribution, the hog was fully committed. And it always surprised Fritz I knew a little about agriculture. Delaware, my state, has in the Delmarva Peninsula, there’s a $5 billion industry, chickens. A lot of chickens. Hell of a lot more chickens than people. And it’s the biggest industry.
President Joe Biden: (03:40)
But Fritz was always committed, not merely to the work of his lifetime, which all of you are familiar with. Most people know most of all, everybody who’s blessed to know him in this state. Reverend Hart-Andersen, members of Congress, our military, distinguished guests, most of all, the Mondale family, Ted, William and Rebecca, and Jan. All the grandchildren, Lewis, Amanda, Barrett, Charlotte, Cassandra and Daniel. And all the dear friends of the family that are here as well. Because he always talked about you all as family.
President Joe Biden: (04:25)
I’m moved to be with you here today as an honorer, one of the great giants in American history, and that’s not hyperbole. Fritz was a giant in American political history, a great American. But he also had a lot of great Americans write about him and write things that related to him without them even knowing it. Great American novelist, Edith Wharton wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light, to be a candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Fritz was both the candle and the mirror, in my view. Candle spreading light and the mirror reflecting it.
President Joe Biden: (05:11)
And today, I speak of a friend of five decades about that light, the light of friendship and what it meant to me personally and my family. Fritz and I first met at one of the darkest moments of my life. I had not intended to run for the United States Senate. I was involved… My state, to its great shame, was segregated by law. We have the eighth largest Black population in America as a percent of population in Delaware. I got involved in politics indirectly by getting involved in the civil rights movement as a kid, being the only White employee in the East Side of Wilmington, area called The Bucket, for years. And I was asked by a group of senior Democrats would I… I was a young lawyer when I came back from law school. And we were the only city in America occupied by the National Guard for 10 months, with every corner being occupied by a National Guard member with a drawn bayonet, because of Dr. King’s assassination and the riots that took place in my home state.
President Joe Biden: (06:29)
And I had a job with one of the oldest law firms in the state, a white-shoe as they used to call them, law firm. And after being home for six months, I couldn’t do it anymore. And I left and tried this sort of job as a public defender to represent the people I used to work with as a kid in high school and college. And, so I came to the United States Senate with a passion to do something about civil rights. And when I was elected, I ran initially with a group. I joined a group of senior members of the Delaware Democratic establishment to reform the Democratic Party, because we were more a Southern Democratic Party than a Northeastern Democratic Party. Used to be able to join the Southern Governors’ Conference or the Mid-Atlantic Conference and Democratic governor’s joined the Southern Governors’ Conference. But I couldn’t bring myself to be a Republican, even though they were more progressive because of Richard Nixon, when I registered.
President Joe Biden: (07:44)
But I was asked to head up a committee of younger people to try to get someone to run for the United States Senate against a guy who was a decent guy actually, a little too conservative, but a decent guy. One thing led to another and I ended up being asked to run for the Senate. I had no intention of running for the Senate. But two years earlier I had been elected to the county council. And Delaware is like a miniature Illinois, one county is 60% of the state’s population. So as a councilperson, I represented a district seven times as large as a state representative and three times as large as a state senator. And I ran and won. I ran only to be a good soldier to try to get out Democrats voting and I wasn’t supposed to win. The only reason I ran, I was certain I wasn’t going to win because I didn’t want to be a county councilman. I was just setting up a law firm as a young senator, as a young man, I should say.
President Joe Biden: (08:54)
And so what happened was, I won in a district, it was like 55, 56% Republican, no Democrat ever won. Republicans saw something me I didn’t see. They saw someone who may want to go on and run for office beyond that. So they reapportioned me from a four-year term or two-year term in those 65% district. And I was put in the position of up or out, and a group of senior members, a former governor, a former United States senator, a former congressman and the retired chief justice of the Supreme Court whose family had more senators than any family in American history. And they came to me an off year convention. I’ll never forget how classic it was. It was a break in the convention in Dover, Delaware, I was at a little motel nearby to go back and change with the younger people I was with. And I had my own room, the typical kind of, you drive up to the front door, two headboards nailed on the wall, a desk nailed to the other wall and a eight by 10 bathroom. So I was in shaving and I had my towel around me. I had just got out the shower and I was shaving, and this banging at the door. And I thought it was one of those, a guy named Bob Cunningham who was with me. I said, “All right, all right, all right!”
President Joe Biden: (10:14)
I went to the door and opened the door, there was a former two-term governor, I remember name, [inaudible 00:10:21] Carville, former congressman named Harrison and the state chairman, and a former chief justice. And I’m standing in a towel, shaving on my [inaudible 00:10:34], and the rest of me is stark naked. And I said… They said, “We want to talk to Joe.” So I said, “Well, come in gentlemen.” I ran into the bathroom, take off the shaving cream, hoping I could find something to put on. I had nothing to put on. So I came back out and I leaned against that desk with a towel around, I said, “Yes, gentlemen.” And they said, “Joe, we just had at dinner, we think you should run for the Senate.” And I said, “But.” And the chief justice, former Chief Justice Tunnel said that and I said, “Sir,” I said, “I’m not old enough.” He said, “Joe, you obviously didn’t do very well on constitutional law.” Thinking, “Holy God, what do I do now?” And he said, “You only have to be 30 to be sworn in, they can collect you whenever you want. You’ll be 30, 17 days later.” Well I ran and to the shock and surprise everybody. I won by a staggering 3,100 votes.
President Joe Biden: (11:38)
But here’s the point. I showed up on December 18th to hire a staff, hadn’t been sworn in yet. And what happened was, that I had gotten a phone call that day from my fire department in Delaware. And they put a poor young woman on the phone who said, “You got to come home, there’s been an accident.” And she went on to tell me, the poor kid had to tell me there was an accident. I said, “What happened?” They said, “Your wife and daughter are dead. And your two boys may not make it.” And you know, the last thing I wanted to do was go to the United States Senate after that. We had elected a governor, a Democrat. He could appoint a Democrat. And I had my brother talking to him about who we’d appoint.
President Joe Biden: (12:38)
But there was Fritz and Joan, they embraced me, contacted me. That’s not just being nice, but bringing me in. They came to the hospital to see my boys. They helped me find my purpose in a sea of darkness and pain. And a long… I was with Fritz so-
President Joe Biden: (13:03)
In pain. I was with Fritz along with Mike Mansfield and Teddy Kennedy and a few others who all came to see me and said, “Just come six months. You can go home after that. We need you.” They had 58 Democrats. They didn’t need me for a damn thing. No serious, but I was such a rookie I thought maybe they need me to organize. And he said, “Then you can leave.” And I used to show up every Tuesday at three o’clock in the Senate chamber to get an assignment from senator Mansfield. Many times Fritz would walk me over. And I thought all freshmen got assignments. I didn’t know nobody gets an assignment in the Senate. Wasn’t until about five months or three months in that I realized that was the case. But they kept me engaged. They helped me get up when it was easy to give up.
President Joe Biden: (14:08)
My life changed again five years later. No man deserves one great love in his life, let alone two. But I met and married Jill Biden. Had to ask her five times. True. But being a spouse of a senator who was relatively well known because of the celebrity of how I got there and the accident and inheriting two beautiful young boys wasn’t easy. Once again, Fritz and Joan were there, were there spreading the light. Joan was one of the first people to reach out to Jill, and it meant the world to us. It meant the world. You just heard from my friend, John Meachum. Fritz was a master legislative who shone a light on those who needed it most. Whose desire to lift up other stemmed from his youth, from his service as a corporal in the US Army in those early days. Organized for Hubert Humphrey in parts of Minnesota that Democrats didn’t win.
President Joe Biden: (15:21)
Fritz learned earlier the power bringing people together, and I know that for Fritz, no moment was brighter than when he joined forces, because I was with him, I was just a bit player, with an African American senator from Massachusetts, senator Edward Brook. And I passed the Fair Housing Act. I was in the same side, the same side of the chamber in the back where Fritz was. I remember the look on his face, literally remember the look on his face, opened up neighborhoods diminished by segregation for so long. When the act passed, Fritz spoke in the Senate floor. And he said that quote, “The words justice and fairness will mean more to millions of our fellow Americans than they do… Never meant more to our fellow Americans than they do today.” That was Fritz spreading light, the light of our country to families who had never truly known its warmth.
President Joe Biden: (16:26)
At every stage of our lives, at every inflection point, Fritz and Joan, I apologize, we say in the Senate, for the point of personal privilege here, but they were there for Jill and me and my family. Not on a political level, but on a personal level. It was true that my first days in the Senate, when I needed help very badly, and it was true in my last days in the Senate as well. In 2008, when Fritz and I had become close friends and sought this council many times, I was asked to join the ticket with Barack Obama. I was, as I usually was, on Amtrak, going home. I commuted every day. They later told me over a million, 200,000 miles on Amtrak. They should name a station or something after me. But all kidding aside, he called me after it was clear he was the defacto nominee. And he said he’d like me to join him on the ticket, at least consider it. Could he do a background check on me? You know, he’d have to do that background check.
President Joe Biden: (17:36)
And I said, “No, thanks, Barack.” I thought he was just dragging that bloody claw through the Senate, like presidential nominees do to get everybody excited and involved. And Barack told me, “No, no, no. There’s only one other person I’m considering.” I said, “Barack, I don’t want to be vice president.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Because you’re basically just stand by equipment.” And by that time I chaired two major committees, I was fairly influential in the Senate. I said, “I can help you a lot more as a senator. I’ll do everything I can. I’ll campaign throughout the country for you.” Brock asked me, he said, “Look, would you go home and talk it over your family? Just talk it over.” So I did. I called Jill from the train on my cell phone. And when I got home, I was about halfway home when I had gotten the call. And when I got home, I went in and, the first person I called was Fritz before the family gathered in the back porch.
President Joe Biden: (18:38)
And I asked, I said, “Fritz, what should I do?”
President Joe Biden: (18:42)
And he went into great detail. I’m serious. As a matter of fact, he sent me a long memorandum he prepared for president Carter when they were deciding how their relationship would work. He told me in essence that the vice presidency holds no inherent power. None. Zero. The vice presidency is merely, and it’s true, a reflection of a relationship with the president of the United States. About seven years ago, I joined Fritz at a forum in his honor at George Washington University. Fritz recounted that his greatest strength wasn’t his expertise in a particular policy area. It was the genuine personal relationship he built with president Jimmy Carter. Relationship built on real affection and trust. They sat down to lunch together every week. Fritz said, “Make sure you get a commitment from Barack, once a week, you have lunch to discuss whatever is on either of your minds.”
President Joe Biden: (19:49)
He was the first vice president to have an office in the West Wing just a few steps away from the oval office. That never happened before. They’re over in the executive office building across the street. That was a true strength of the vice presidency, he said. A strength that Barack and I replicate in our time in office. And what Kamala and I are doing today, and she sends her regards to the whole family. She called me before I got in the plane. It was Fritz who lit the way. At his core Fritz embraced everybody with the belief that everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity. Everybody. Dignity. Not just the right to vote. Dignity.
President Joe Biden: (20:38)
He was loved by the American people because he reflected the goodness of the American people, especially the people of Minnesota. Every senator wears on his or her sleeve the state they serve. But the love Fritz had for the people of Minnesota ran deeper than that. He loved you all, and you loved him back, it was obvious, because Fritz reflected the very best qualities of this state. The warmth and optimism that you reflect. At every turn Fritz reflected the light of this nation. Who we are and what we can be. He called me when I had said at the inauguration that we are the most unique nation in all of history. We’re the only nation founded on an idea. Every other nation in the world is based on geography, ethnicity, religion, race. We’re founded on an idea. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, including right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. And it goes on.
President Joe Biden: (22:02)
Fritz believed that in his gut. I watched him every day for over 35 years in the Senate and when he was vice president. He united people, sharing the same light, the same hopes. Even when we disagree he thought that was important. I’ll never forget, on a personal level, what it meant to have a friend like Fritz. Less than four years after losing Eleanor to brain cancer, and just a year after losing Joan, Fritz was there to help me again when Jill and I lost our son Beau to brain cancer after a year in Iraq. I’ll never forget how Fritz affected so much love in and light into our family. Again, at our darkest moments. Nor will I forget coming here to Minneapolis eight years ago to say goodbye to Joan. Most of you remember that Fritz went to the Mayo Clinic for quadruple bypass the very next day. He had delayed the surgery so he could be with all of us to reflect her light, and he put off treating his own heart, because all you know his heart belonged to Joan.
President Joe Biden: (23:40)
As I’ve said many times, I say to the family, seeing your mom and dad together reminded me of that great line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem, come live with me and be my love, and we shall all the pleasures prove. You can tell when a couple has been together a long time, still looks at each other with love, deep love. It’s been said that memory is the power to gather roses in winter. Well Ted and William, your dad blessed you with an endless garden of those memories. And most of all, the memory of two extraordinary loves. A love of more than 58 years he spent together with your mom, and a love of 51 years with your sister Eleanor. In his farewell letter, Fritz wrote that he was eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor, two unbreakable loves.
President Joe Biden: (24:52)
Jill Biden wanted to do a garden at the vice president’s residence, the picture of which shows on the screen outside here of them standing in front of the residence so that every family that ever had lived there, it was a garden, it was stones and an engraving on each of the stones of the name of the couple and the children. And I called Fritz to tell about it, and he came over to the house and it was a summer day, and he wanted, he said, “Can we go in the house?” I said, “Of course.” He wanted to walk up to the third floor. He walked up to the third floor and then to the end. There are bedrooms on the third floor. And he stopped in front of a door and opened it and just stared. And I knew he was thinking something deep, and I went down the hallway. And a few minutes went by and he came down and he said, “That was Eleanor’s room. I so miss her.” Well, they’re all together now for all time. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an institute-
Joe Biden: (26:03)
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” There’s no doubt that the institution of the Senate, the institution of the Vice President reflect the profound legacy of Fritz Mondale. But it’s not a lengthened shadow we see in those place, it’s his light. It’s up to each of us now to reflect that light that Fritz was all about, to reflect Fritz’s goodness and grace, the way he made people feel no matter who you were.
Joe Biden: (26:45)
Just imagine what our nation could achieve if we follow Fritz’s example of honor, decency, integrity, literally just the service of the common good. There would be nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing beyond our reach.
Joe Biden: (27:09)
I hope we all can be Fritz’s mirror. Continue to spread his light, because you know he was one of the finest men you’ve ever known, the most decent people ever dealt with, and one of the toughest, smartest men I’ve ever worked with. You were lucky to have had him, and by the look of things, he was lucky to have had you.
Joe Biden: (27:39)
God bless you, my dear friend, among the greatest of all Americans. The highest compliment, my grandfather figured, he used to say, you can give a man or woman, he was the Irish of it, was to say, “He’s a good man.” Fritz Mondale was a good man.
Speaker 1: (28:23)
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Ted and William Mondale, the sons of former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Ted Mondale: (28:43)
Try following that. Good afternoon. My job is to thank folks that helped with us today and have been around my dad for a long time. Every one of you that is here is here because you had a piece or a role in his life, and I don’t think anybody would like me thanking 1200 people.
Ted Mondale: (29:07)
But I’d like to say, Mr. President, your presence here today meant everything to our family, I know to him. You know he’s watching Gerry Ferraro’s with him. They probably had Campion go out and get pizza to watch this thing.
Ted Mondale: (29:28)
But thank you so much. It means a lot. Your last call to him right before he passed really helped him move on. He had such a smile on his face. Thank you.
Ted Mondale: (29:47)
To the speakers, you made this absolutely … You all knew him, but you made it absolutely a service that he would’ve wanted. He didn’t want to lay in state. He didn’t want to be in Washington. He wanted to be here with you. You reflected what he would care about and who he is, and we thank you.
Ted Mondale: (30:16)
To our organizing committee, this is our third go at this event, but we put in countless hours of trying to plan this and do it in a way that would make sense and didn’t last five hours, which would’ve been easy to do. I want to thank the University of Minnesota for hosting us, and the great staff and volunteers that worked tirelessly. Mr. President, they got the building at 2:00 AM and had it set up at 7:00 AM. That’s a bad volunteer job.
Ted Mondale: (30:50)
To Dorsey & Whitney, that was my dad’s home. He went to the office every day. I once asked him, I said, “What kind of law do you practice? What do you do there?” He says, “Oh, perfume law.” I said, “What’s that?” He goes, “You get the right people in the room and when it smells right, you leave.” So he did that for 20 to 30 years and perfected the art.
Ted Mondale: (31:19)
Tina mentioned it, but Linda Patterson was at his side all the way through and through today. We asked Linda, putting this event together, I said, “Linda, how are you getting the emails out? Are you using MailChimp? Are you using some kind of service?” She goes, “No, I’m sending each one individually.” We’re like, “Oh my goodness. You’ve sent 7,000 emails in the last two weeks.” But thank you.
Ted Mondale: (31:54)
I want to also say one of the things that touched him late in life was the naming … The visionaries that named the St. Croix River Valley after him. It reflected his accomplishments, but the importance of nature, and, of course, his first state with my mom. So thank you for that.
Ted Mondale: (32:13)
To staff, you all have come from all over the country and, indeed, the world to be here with us today, whether it was from the attorney general’s office, the Senate, the White House, the embassy in Japan. He was so proud of the work you did and so proud of the accomplishments that you all achieved together.
Ted Mondale: (32:36)
I just want his oldest staff member. We want to single out Mike Berman, who started with him in 1963. Mike was on every organizing call. And so, we thank Mike for his hard work.
Ted Mondale: (33:01)
There was a story the other day about a former president who they didn’t have records of foreign trips of the gifts. Well, when you go on these foreign trips, they give you a lot of nice gifts. Everyone on the Mondale plane knew that when they landed, Mike Berman would be calling them up and they could keep nothing or he would visit them in their office. So thank you, Mike.
Ted Mondale: (33:28)
I want to thank the campaign staff. I’ve got my hog pin on here. You guys worked so hard for him. It was so great to see you all last night and this morning. Yes, Mr. President, we had eggs and bacon for breakfast.
Ted Mondale: (33:50)
Earlier. Jon Meacham reflected on that day in 1948, when it all started for my dad. We know it wasn’t until April 19th, 2021 was when he was forced to stop. And so, William and I, we believe, to honor our father, by doing so is to never stop, to never stop remembering his legacy of profoundly changing America for the better and to never stop doing our part every day to preserve and strengthen our democracy and perfect our union. Thank you.
William Mondale: (34:32)
Thank you. Stand over here, Ted. Come here, give me a hug. Dad always took everything that life could throw at him to make the future better for everyone. He only really wanted to look back so we could improve on our common future. As kids, sometimes we were able to get him talking about growing up in what everyone except him would call poverty in southern Minnesota, in Ceylon and in Elmore, no shoes, hitchhiking to college every day, and having one sweater and one pair of pants for all of law school.
William Mondale: (35:35)
Dad always considered the devastation of the Great Depression best remembered as a springboard for communal action that brought us the America we all love, the one that our President and our elected leaders and all of us here are fighting to protect and to expand.
William Mondale: (35:59)
Mom and dad adored that spirit of the new deal of progressive action for the betterment of everyone, in their home as well as at work. we would listen to music together. One song that just got under dad’s skin was from this beautiful musical called Annie. The movie came out in 1982, and they just loved that musical. dad would sing from that musical with his beautiful, underused baritone voice, and it just never left him. He just loved that song.
William Mondale: (36:49)
So why Annie? Well, if we know Annie, the story of the orphan, it’s the tale of how one person who was born without anything Could stay true to her hope and to her optimism to find justice for everyone, everyone in the orphanage and everyone everywhere. And so, that makes sense to me why he really loved that song.
William Mondale: (37:22)
We’ve heard about his life, and it’s hard to remember the loss of our family members. It really is. That really slowed dad down. But on his 92nd birthday, and he wasn’t really going out much because he was tired. He was tired.
William Mondale: (37:45)
But on that day of his 92nd birthday, my dear child Charlie Mondale, who is here today, he got their best friend to come to sing for dad on his birthday. This person who was Charlie’s first and best friend had become quite a singer and was singing the role of Annie at the Ordway. So we asked Lillian Hochman to come and sing, and what a song, what a joy to hear. Dad was so happy. He was just ready to fly out of the place.
William Mondale: (38:35)
Today, as we ready ourselves to move past this beautiful service, missing those who have gone on before, missing those who could not be here today, President Carter, Secretary Albright, so many others that Ted did such a great job of summarizing and remembering, today as we are ready to move on to our lives of service and action, let’s think for just one more moment about what …
William Mondale: (39:03)
Let’s think for just one more moment about what dad would want us to focus on as we leave here. To better our lives and to hone our spirits for community and for joy. To sing one last song, as we move out, I would like Lillian Hochman to come and sing the song Tomorrow from the musical Annie. Let’s all welcome her.
Lillian Hochman: (39:31)
Speaker 2: (42:34)
Welcome back to the stage, Governor Tim Walz.
Tim Walz: (42:42)
Thank you. I would you ask you, if you’re able, to please rise and join the pride of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Marching Band, for one more Minnesota rouser for our friend, Fritz.
Speaker 3: (42:54)
You all know the words.