A Childhood Friendship Turns to Love, and Muriel Humphrey Plans to Be Married
The entry beside Muriel Buck’s picture in the 1930 Huron (S.Dak.) High School yearbook offers the kind of prophecy more often made than fulfilled: “I’ll do something bye and bye, and I’ll be famous before I die.” Max Brown was the subject of a more modest prediction: “Persistency wins out in the end.” It may have taken 50-plus years, but the Huron Tiger is looking clairvoyant. Last month Muriel Buck Humphrey, widow of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, announced her engagement to persistent Max Brown.
The romance of the woman who was nearly First Lady and the shy radio station founder, both 68, marks the culmination of a childhood friendship. Though the two grew up within four blocks of one another, they never dated as teenagers and after graduation didn’t see each other for five decades. Married to hometown boy Hubert in 1936, she moved with him to Minneapolis and became a model political wife and campaigner. When Senator Humphrey died in 1978, she was named to serve the remaining nine months until the November elections. Meanwhile, Max had majored in agricultural economics at South Dakota State, studied for a doctorate at the University of Minnesota and married a St. Paul woman, Vera Johnson. Later he moved to little Lexington, Nebr., where he founded KRVN, specializing in weather and farm news. The station became known as “The Rural Voice of Nebraska.”
The paths of the prospective newlyweds might never have crossed again if Muriel hadn’t gone back to Huron to dedicate an airport terminal in her husband’s name in 1979. There she ran into Dona Brown, Max’s sister, who told her Vera had died a few weeks before. “She sat down and wrote Max a note right there,” Dona recalls. “She made everyone wait, and I mailed the letter for her.” Max replied and then phoned, and eventually he suggested lunch. Their reunion was in Willmar, Minn.—a drive of more than 300 miles for him and 80 for her. They sat down to eat at noon and didn’t leave the table till 5. They talked about revisiting Huron, but Muriel, who had spent only a couple of hours in town during her previous homecoming, was leery. “Sometimes memories are better than the real thing,” she said, “but I’ll go if you go.” They went last September. “I came home to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong, and I guess I have,” said Muriel. Dona gave a party for them but nobody sensed a romance.
Now that one has developed, however, both families—Muriel has four children and 10 grandchildren, Max has two children and five grandchildren—are delighted. “Most people are lucky if they get one chance at happiness,” says an acquaintance. “If you get two chances, I think that’s super.” Observes Muriel’s daughter Nancy Solomonson approvingly, “Mother is very much in love.” The happy couple has kept the exact date secret, but there will be a family-only, single-ring wedding at Muriel’s house on Lake Minnetonka this month. “But Max,” the bride protested recently, “if you don’t wear a ring, how will people know you’re married?” “People will be able to tell just by looking at me,” he said.
In fact, there is only one small cloud on the couple’s horizon: He is as ardent a Republican as she is a Democrat. After her speech to the Democratic National Convention last summer she called Max and asked, “How did I do?” “Well, you looked lovely and your voice was beautifully modulated,” he said. “Everything was perfect except the text.”