Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My Moment With Eleanor Mondale

Crossing the news wires today is the report that Vice President Walter Mondale's daughter, Eleanor Mondale, has been diagnosed with brain cancer. Doctors have discovered two brain tumors and she will begin extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment immediately.

Sounding upbeat in news reports, Mondale, 45, said "It's bad but not that bad. I've got a really good chance to beat it."

It's strange how hard news like this hits you when you've actually met the person involved. I met Eleanor Mondale in 1984 at one of the many parties I attended during the Democratic convention, which was hosted in San Francisco, where I was in college.

As a student politician at San Francisco State University, I was in heaven with the convention right in my back yard. I was also a strong supporter of Senator Gary Hart and, despite my high regard for Walter Mondale, thought Hart had a better chance of unseating Ronald Reagan in the presidential election that year.

But aside from wanting to shake hands with Hart and Jesse Jackson, I, like every other red-blooded male in his twenties, had the primary goal of getting a glimpse of Eleanor Mondale. She was 23 or 24 at the time and, for a politically-active young man, had all the goods – she was brainy, liberal and a total babe.

I thought I was pretty cool at the time but my bravado turned to mush when I actually spied her across the room at a delegate cocktail party. When the rare moment arrived when she was actually alone, I overcame my star-struck awkwardness and approached her.

I'm not sure what I said... I think I babbled something about welcoming her to my town and offered to fill her in on the night spots favored by locals. I know I also mentioned that I was from Nebraska, thinking that our common Midwestern roots would prompt her to fall in love with me.

No such luck.

But she also could not possibly have been nicer. She gave me that movie-star smile, offered me her hand, said it was nice to meet me and gushed over how much she loved San Francisco. She then asked what brought a Nebraska kid to the big city and I tried to give a coherent explanation, despite feeling like a nervous schoolboy.

She sweetly excused herself when her friends came back – and that was that.

But I've always remembered that encounter and how genuinely nice she was when, as the focal point of so much attention, many people would not have been.

I know you don't remember the Nebraska kid in San Francisco, Ms. Mondale. But please know that I remember and that my thoughts and hopes are with you.