☷Remarks by President Biden at the Memorial Service of Vice President Walter Mondale
White House ( By Press Release office)
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2:44 P . M . CDT THE PRESIDENT: Thank you . Thank you , Amy . What Fritz is really saying looking down is , “Joe , hide your Irish Catholic enthusiasm a little bit and be more Norwegian . ” ( Laughter . ) A generous introduction . You know , we 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 Finnegan would say , “That’s the Irish of it . ” You know , I served with Fritz a long time . He became a good and close friend . I was a kid when I got elected . I wasn’t even old to be sworn in . I was only 29 years old . And because everything is 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 . And so , I’m going to talk more today about Fritz and what he pretend didn’t exist but Fritz’s — 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 . You know , 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 ” Senator Smith and Klobuchar know the answer . ( Laughter . ) By supplying the eggs , the chicken made a contribution . The hog was fully committed . ( Laughter and applause . ) And it always surprised Fritz I knew a little about agriculture . Delaware , my state , has a — and the Delmarva Peninsula has a $5 billion industry: chickens . A lot of chickens . A hell of a lot more chickens than people . And it’s the biggest industry . 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 was blessed to know him in this state . You know , Reverend Hart - Andersen , members of Congress and our military , distinguished guests; most of all , the Mondale family — Ted and William , and Rebecca and Chan; all the grandchildren — Louis , Amanda , Berit , Charlotte , Cassandra , Danielle; and all the dear friends of the family that are here as well , because he always talked about you all as family: I’m — I’m moved to be with you here today as an — honor one of the great giants in American history . And that’s not hyperbole . Fritz was a giant in American political history . You know , a great American who — but he also had a lot of great Americans write about him and write things that related to him without them even knowing it . The 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 — a candle spreading light and the mirror reflecting it . And today , I speak of a friend of five decades , about that light — the light of friendship and what it meant to me personally , to my family . Fritz and I first met in one of the darkest moments of my life . I had not intended to run for the United States Senate . I was involved — my state , it was a 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 east side of Wilmington , an 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 National Guard members with a drawn bayonet because of Dr . King’s assassination and the riots that took place in my home state . And I had a job with one of the oldest law firms in the state — a “white shoe , ” as they used to call the law firm . And after being home for six months , I couldn’t do it anymore . And I left and tried to — sought a job as a public defender to represent the people I used to work with in the — 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 for the group — with a group I joined , a group of senior members of the United States of the Delaware Democratic establishment to reform the Democratic Party , because we were more a southern Democratic Party than a northeastern Democratic Party . You used to be able to be joined — the Southern Governors’ Conference with the Mid - Atlantic Conference . And Democratic governors 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 . 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 . And 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 percent of the state’s population . So , the 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 rin [sic] — win — because I didn’t want to be a county councilman . ( Laughter . ) I wanted — I was just setting up a law firm as a young senator — as a young man , I should say . And so , what happened was I won in a district that was like 55 , 56 percent Republican . No Democrat had ever won . Republicans saw something in 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 to a two - year term ( inaudible ) 65 percent district . And I was put in a position of up or out . And a group of senior members — a former governor , a former United States Senator , a former congressman , and the chief justice of 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 I was — how classic it was . I was — there was a break in the convention in Dover , Delaware . I was at a little motel nearby . Had to — to go back and change with the younger people I was with . And I had my own room . And , you know , 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 an 8 by 10 bathroom . So I was in , shaving . I had my towel around . Man , I just got a shower and shaving , and I — there’s banging at the door . And I thought it was one of those — a guy named Bob Cunningham was with me . I said , “All right , all right , all right . ” I went to the door and opened the door . There was a former two - term governor named Elbert – - Elbert Carvel , a former congressman named Harrison , and the state chairman , and a former chief justice . And I’m standing in a towel , shaving , and my — ( laughter ) — and the rest of me stark naked . And I said — they said , “We want to talk to you , Joe . ” So I said , “Well , come in , gentlemen . ” I ran into the bathroom , take off the shaving cream , hoping I can find something to put on . I had nothing to put on . ( Laughter . ) So I came back out and I leaned against that desk and with a towel around me . I said , “Yes , gentlemen ” ( Laughter . ) And they said , “Joe , we just had dinner . We think you should run for the Senate . ” And I said , “But…” And the chief justice — former Chief Justice ( inaudible ) said that . I said , “Sir . ” I said , “I’m — I’m not old enough . ” He said , “Joe , you obviously didn’t do very well on constitutional law . ” ( Laughter . ) I’m thinking , “Holy God , what did I do now ” ( Laughter . ) And he said , “You only have to be 30 to be sworn in . They can elect you whenever you want . You’ll be 30 seventeen days later . Well , I ran , and , to the shock and surprise of everybody , I won by a staggering 3 , 100 votes . But here’s the point: I showed up on December 18th to hire staff . I 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 asked , “What happened ” She 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 . But there was Fritz and Joan . They embraced me , cont - — contacted me . And it’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 along — 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 . ” We had 58 Democrats; they didn’t need me for a damn thing . ( Laughter . ) No , I’m serious . But I was so — such a rookie I thought , “Maybe they need me to organize . ” ( Laughter . ) And they 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 that nobody gets an assignment in the Senate . ( Laughter . ) It 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 . 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 . I had to ask her five times . ( Laughter . ) 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 , Jon Meacham , Fritz was a master legislator who shone a light on those who needed it most . The desire to lift up others stemmed from his youth , from his service as a corporal in the U . S . Army , and those early days organizing for Hubert Humphrey in parts of Minnesota that Democrats didn’t win . Fritz learned early the power of bringing people together . And I know that Fritz — 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 Brooke and they passed the Fair Housing Act . I was on 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 on 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 — will 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 . At every stage of our lives , at every inflection point , Fritz and Joan — I apologize , as we say in the Senate , for the , you know , 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 — and Fritz and I had become close friends , and I sought his counsel 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 1 , 200 , 000 miles on Amtrak . They should name a station or something after me . ( Laughter . ) But all kidding aside , he called me after it was clear he was the de facto nominee . And he said he’d liked me to join him on the ticket , at least consider it; could he do a background check on me . You know , we have to do that background check . And I said , “No thanks , Barack . ” I thought he was just dragging that bloody ( inaudible ) through the Senate like president — 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 standby equipment . ” ( Laughter . ) I said , “What I want to do — I’m — I’m…” And by that time , I had 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 . ” Barack to - — asked me — he said , “Look , would you go home and talk it over with 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 . And I asked — I said , “Fritz , what should I do ” And he went into great detail . ( Laughter . ) I’m serious . As a matter of fact , he sent me a long memorandum he prepared for President Carter when they were deciding how the relationship would work . He told me , in essence , that the vice presidency holds no inherent power . None . Zero . The Vice President is merely — and it’s true — a reflection of your 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 — a relationship built on real affection and trust . They sat down for 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 . ” 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 were over in the Executive Office Building across the street . That was the true strength of the vice presidency he said , a strength that Barack and I replicated in our time in office and what I’m — 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 . His core — at his core , Fritz embraced everybody with a belief that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity — everybody . Dignity . Not just the right to vote , dignity . He was loved by the American people because he reflected the goodness of the American people , especially the people of Minnesota . You know , 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 in the inauguration that we’re 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 unalienable rights , including the right to life , liberty , the pursuit of happiness . ” And it goes on . 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 reflected so much love 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 , as all you know , his heart belonged to Joan . 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 . So 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 . You know , Jill Biden wanted to do a garden at the Vice President’s Residence — a picture of which shows on the screen outside here that I’m standing in front of the Residence — so that every family that ever had lived there , there was a garden with stones and engraving on each of the stones with the name of the — the couple and the children . When I called Fritz to tell him about it , 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 in 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 — 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 institution is the lengthened shadow of one man . ” There is no doubt that the institution of the Senate and the institution — the institution of the Vice President reflect the profound legacy of Fritz Mondale . But it’s not a lengthened shadow we see in those places; it’s his light . And 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 . Just imagine what our nation could achieve if we followed Fritz’s example of honor , decency , integrity , literally just the service to the common good . There would be nothing — nothing , nothing , nothing beyond our reach . 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 , one of the most decent people I ever dealt with , and one of the toughest , smartest men I’ve ever worked with . You were lucky to have had him . ( Inaudible ) look at things , he was lucky to have had you . God bless you , my dear friend . Among the greatest of all Americans . The highest compliment , my Grandfather Finnegan used to say , you can give a man or a woman — he was — the Irish of it is to say , “He’s a good man . ” Fritz Mondale was a good man . ( Applause . ) 3:12 P . M . CDT
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