George McGovern: A man of principle and compassion

It's a sad occasion for our country. My great friend George McGovern died yesterday at the age of 90.

Senator McGovern was a true American hero.

As a pilot during World War II, he helped liberate Europe from the Nazis – once saving the lives of his crew by safely landing his damaged bomber.

But that was just the beginning of his heroism.

After being elected to the U.S. Senate in the 1960s, he took a strong but highly unpopular stand against the Vietnam War. If only our leaders had listened.

His anti-war activism was just one facet of his political career.

George McGovern and Morris Dees
The man I knew was a fierce and unwavering champion of society’s most vulnerable – a kind, compassionate and principled man who believed deeply in justice and devoted his life to creating a level playing field for all. A child of the Great Depression, he fought poverty and hunger, both at home and abroad, with a rare vigor.

I first met Senator McGovern as he was preparing for his 1972 presidential campaign. It was also shortly before Joe Levin and I launched the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we were right in the middle of a lawsuit that would desegregate the all-white Alabama Legislature.

George McGovern and Morris Dees
Because of my admiration for Senator McGovern – and because of our shared values – I was proud to serve as his finance chairman when he ran for president. He lost to Nixon, as we all know. But looking back, I think a great many Americans would agree that the country got it wrong that year.

I saw Senator McGovern many times in recent years, and he visited my home in Montgomery, Alabama, on a number of occasions. He was a powerful advocate for the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, believing passionately in our fight for justice and tolerance.

We owe him our gratitude for everything he did for America. I’ll miss him.

But we can draw inspiration from his life and what he stood for.