Sunday, October 21, 2012

President Obama Honors Sen. George McGovern

President Obama on Sunday marked the passing of lawmaker, author, military veteran and hunger and nutrition activist Sen. George McGovern, who died early this morning at a hospice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, close to where he grew up. In a statement, President Obama offered "thoughts and prayers" as he hailed McGovern's longtime work on food and hunger initiatives, and called him "a champion for peace" who was a "statesman of great conscience and conviction."

McGovern was 90, and his passing after a series of illnesses was announced by his family. 

A member of the House for two terms as well as a Senator, McGovern made a failed bid for the Presidency as a Democratic Candidate in 1972.  He began his Congressional career in 1956, and was instrumental in developing and expanding the Food Stamp and other federal nutrition programs, as well as known for being a tireless advocate for farmers.

As the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1961, McGovern oversaw the distribution of U.S. surpluses to the needy abroad and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations-based World Food Programme.  As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs from 1968–1977, McGovern publicized the problem of hunger in the America and issued the "McGovern Report," which led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for citizens, which now exist as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are updated every five years.

"After his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger," President Obama said.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed McGovern ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.  From Rome, he worked for three years on plans to battle hunger around the world.  In 2000, Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.  McGovern and former Sen. Robert Dole joined forces in 200 to create The George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program.   Funded largely through Congress, it provided more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries over the next eight years.  It was also credited with improving school attendance, especially among girls, who were more likely to be allowed to go to school if a meal was being provided.  The two won the World Food Prize in 2008 for their work.

In October 2001, McGovern was appointed as the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Programme, the agency he had helped found forty years earlier. He remained a goodwill Ambassador through 2011, and was an honorary life member of the board of Friends of the World Food Program.  He also served as a Senior Policy Advisor at Olsson Frank Weeda, a food and drug regulatory counseling law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., where he specialized in food, nutrition, and agriculture.

President Obama's full statement:

"George McGovern dedicated his life to serving the country he loved.  He signed up to fight in World War II, and became a decorated bomber pilot over the battlefields of Europe.  When the people of South Dakota sent him to Washington, this hero of war became a champion for peace.  And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger.  George was a statesman of great conscience and conviction, and Michelle and I share our thoughts and prayers with his family." 

George Stanley McGovern was born on July 19, 1922, in Avon, South Dakota, and grew up in the town of Mitchell.  After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army Air Corps, and flew dozens of missions over Germany, Austria and Italy in the B-24 Liberator, a four-engine heavy bomber.  He was a graduate of Dakota Wesleyan University and married classmate Eleanor Stegeberg on Oct. 21, 1943.  Later in life he became an activist against the Vietnam War.  He was also an author and university professor.