Joan Mondale, who became Second Lady when her husband Walter Mondale was elected Jimmy Carter’s vice president in 1976, died Monday afternoon with her husband, sons Ted and William, and other family members by her side, the family said in a statement. She was 83.
“Joan was greatly loved by many. We will miss her dearly,” the former vice president said in a written statement.
Former President Bill Clinton also added to the tributes. In a statement released late Monday, he said, “Hillary and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Joan Mondale. Joan was as wise and graceful in her role as our nation’s Second Lady as she was unwavering in her support of art and artists.”
On her influence, Clinton went on to say, “From the state of Minnesota, to Washington DC, to our embassy in Japan, Joan was a singular American who happily devoted her life to her family, her considerable skills to public service, and her great charm to all who had the good fortune to know her. We were honored by our friendship with Joan and Fritz for more than 35 years, and our hearts and prayers go out to him, and to Ted, William, and their entire family.”
A Force for the Arts
As an avid arts advocate, Joan Mondale lobbied Congress and the states for more spending on arts programs, and she traveled frequently to museums, theaters and artists’ studios on the administration’s behalf. She was so passionate that she earned the nickname “Joan of Art” and, in the process of pushing her cause, transformed the role of the second lady.
As Carter’s No. 2, Walter “Fritz” Mondale was seen as a trusted adviser and credited with making the office of the vice president more relevant. It was natural that his wife would do the same for her role. Vice presidential aide Al Eisele once said of his boss: “It was important to him that Joan not just be the vice president’s wife, but his partner.”
The family had announced Sunday that she had gone into hospice care, but declined to discuss her illness.
Walter Mondale, then a Democratic senator from Minnesota, was elected Carter’s vice president in 1976. Soon after, Carter named Joan Mondale honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, and she used that role to push for arts programs on the administration’s behalf.
She also showcased the work of prominent artists in the vice presidential residence, including photographer Ansel Adams, sculptor David Smith and painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
Joan Mondale would later take her cultural zeal overseas when her husband was named U.S. ambassador to Japan during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Originally from Oregon
She was born Joan Adams in Eugene, Ore., on Aug. 8, 1930. She and her two sisters moved several times during childhood as their father, a Presbyterian minister, took new assignments. The family finally settled in St. Paul, Minn., where Joan would earn an undergraduate degree at Macalester College.
It was the same liberal arts school that Walter Mondale attended, but they were a few years apart and didn’t meet until 1955, when one of Joan’s sisters arranged a blind date. Six months later they were engaged, and they married soon after.
She dabbled in Democratic Party politics as a ward chairwoman, though she focused on her family as her husband built a political career that started with state attorney general. Joan tended to a family that would eventually include sons Ted and William and a daughter, Eleanor, who died in 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer.
When Walter Mondale was tapped to fill the Senate seat vacated by Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey in 1964, the family headed to Washington.
More recently, she sat on the U.S. Postal Service panel that has a role in selecting stamp designs. She gave up her seat on that committee in 2010.
On Monday, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama noted and praised her many contributions to the arts community.
“Through her contributions to the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities and the Kennedy Center, she passionately advocated for the role of art in the life of our nation and the promotion of understanding worldwide,” the Obamas said in a statement.
A service is scheduled for Saturday in Minneapolis.