Eleanor Mondale Poling was many things – St. Lawrence University graduate, actress, TV personality and radio deejay. She was also the daughter of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and, since their wedding in 2005 until her death from brain cancer early last Saturday, the loving wife of musician and composer Chan Poling.
“She passed way peacefully in her own bed, looking out at the pasture. There was a completeness and peace to the whole thing,” Poling told PEOPLE at the couple’s horse farm outside of Minnesota’s Prior Lake, 25 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Eleanor had called the place home since 2003, when she moved there from New York.
“She looked for a place to have horses and found this gorgeous place here,” says her husband. “She had a celebrity status, but also had a very loving, lovely family life. She raised her horses here, had chickens. Loved it all.”
During a camping trip in 2005, Eleanor suffered two seizures and was diagnosed with brain cancer. After a year in which she was treated with chemotherapy and radiation, she returned to work as host of a Minneapolis radio WCCO-AM’s weekday morning program.
Dated Arnold Schwarzenegger
Her career spanned back to the early ’80s, with small roles on Three’s Company and Dynasty, before she branched into on-air appearances on E!, ESPN and CBS’s Early Show and, eventually, radio deejaying in the Midwest. Over that time she also dated Arnold Schwarzenegger, musicians Warren Zevon and Don Henley, and magnate Ronald O. Perelman. Poling was her fourth husband.
In March 2009 she left WCCO when her cancer returned. Despite surgery, her condition grew worse.
“She was ready to go. She couldn’t ride anymore, hadn’t been able to for a few years, and that was very hard for her. She stopped showing her horses two summers ago after she went to one show but was exhausted and had to spend most of her time in the trailer,” says Poling
“Five months ago she took a turn – amazingly fast, she went from being able to walk and do things to being mostly in bed. Then, about three weeks ago, I came home and she couldn’t speak. That was horrible. The end came fast, but it was peaceful. She wasn’t in pain, she was ready to go. She just went to sleep.”
‘A Great Sprit’
Speaking to The New York Times, Walter Mondale, 83, called Eleanor “a wonderful daughter. A great spirit, a lot of courage. She fought this stuff almost six years now, and never a whimper.”
Chan Poling says Eleanor’s parents, Walter and Joan, are struggling with her death. “They are heartbroken. We’re just trying to find what happiness we can.”
Still he says, “Eleanor would have liked people to know that she really found peace of mind and happiness out here on our little farm, and we had a great love for each other.”
Oct. 5 in downtown Minneapolis, a memorial service for Poling is to be held at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Episcopal church where Eleanor and Chan were married and where she sometimes read for the Lessons and Carols Christmas service.
• Reporting by MARGARET NELSON BRINKHAUS