MINNEAPOLIS — President Biden on Sunday honored the life of former Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale as “a good man” and a friend for five decades, through some of the darkest moments in the president’s life.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go to the United States Senate after that,” Biden said about the day his late wife and daughter died in a car accident. “But, there was Fritz and Joan, they embraced me, contacted me.”
“That’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,” the president said at the memorial service for the former vice president at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Biden said that the Mondales were also there to support First Lady Jill Biden, and that Joan Mondale was one of the first people to reach out to her when she married Biden in 1977.
“At every stage of our lives, at every inflection point, Fritz and Joan… they were there for Jill, for me, and my family,” Biden said, adding Mondale also reached out when his son, Beau, died in 2015.
Mondale died at age 93 in April 2021 of natural causes at his home in downtown Minneapolis.
Mondale served as vice president under President Carter, was a senator from Minnesota for 12 years, Minnesota’s attorney general for four years, and was ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration.
Biden recalled calling Mondale when former President Obama asked Biden about being his running mate and he was hesitant to take the role.
“When I got home…the first person I called was Fritz, before the family gathered on the back porch. I said, ‘Fritz, what should I do?’ and he went into great detail,” Biden said.
Mondale had advised Biden to build a relationship with Obama like his with Carter, which he said was “on real affection and trust.”
“Fritz said, ‘make sure you get a commitment from Barack, once a week you have lunch to discuss whatever is on 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,” the president said.
“The strength that Barack and I replicated in our time in office and what Kamala and I are doing today,” he said, adding that he talked to Harris before leaving for Minnesota on Sunday.
Biden had called Mondale right before he passed away last year and his sons, Theodore and William Mondale, thanked the president for that in remarks.
The president called Mondale “one of the great giants in American history” and said, “Fritz embraced everybody with a belief that everybody is entitled to be treated with dignity.”
“He united people, sharing the same light, the same hopes, even when we disagreed. He thought that was important,” he added.
Biden also honored the Mondales’ marriage and said until the end they “still looked at each other with love, deep love.”
“He put off treating his own heart because you all know, his heart belonged to Joan,” he said. Mondale had heart surgery in 2014, days after his wife died and was memorialized.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) opened the memorial service. Other speakers included University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel, presidential historian Jon Meacham, and Minnesota Sens. Tina Smith (D) and Amy Klobuchar (D).
Mondale’s stoic manner was a theme throughout the memorial service, with Smith discussing his “Norwegian emotional” demeanor, Klobuchar mentioning his “stoic manner” and Meacham noting that the Mondales’ were “a stoic people.”
“Fritz is really saying looking down, ‘Joe, hide your Irish Catholic enthusiasm a little bit,’” Biden said.