George McGovern, anti-hunger champion, dies at 90

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — George McGovern, former U.S. senator from the state of South Dakota, World War II veteran, and Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 1972, died on Oct. 21 at the age of 90. Mr. McGovern may be best remembered as a champion in efforts to reduce hunger, especially among children, both in the United States and abroad. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, a global school feeding program that each year provides meals to around 5 million school children in some of the poorest nations, bears his name and that of his partner in the anti-hunger cause, former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas.

Mr. McGovern’s political career began in 1956, when he won a seat in the U.S. Congress. After two terms in the House of Representatives, Mr. McGovern ran for the U.S. Senate in 1960 but lost his bid.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Mr. McGovern as the first director of the Food for Peace Program, which became the principal vehicle through which the United States donates food to the hungry of the world’s poorest nations. It was while he served in this position that Mr. McGovern helped create the United Nations World Food Program, which quickly became the world’s largest humanitarian organization.

Mr. McGovern left the Kennedy administration to run again for the Senate in 1962. He was elected and served three terms representing South Dakota in the U.S. Senate. Arguably his most lasting achievements in the Senate related to addressing hunger in the United States.

Mr. Dole commented in a tribute to Mr. McGovern published in the Washington Post, “We would both come to understand that our most important commonality — the one that would unite us during and after our service on Capitol Hill — was our shared desire to eliminate hunger in this country and around the world. As colleagues in the 1970s on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee, we worked together to reform the Food Stamp Program, expand the domestic school lunch program and establish the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children.”

Mr. McGovern was defeated in his bid to retain his Senate seat in the 1980 elections, but he was called back to government service by President Bill Clinton in 1998, who appointed him U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food and agriculture programs (the W.F.P., the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development) headquartered in Rome.

Mr. Dole recalled that when Mr. McGovern was ambassador to the U.N. food agencies, he enlisted Mr. Dole’s assistance in strengthening global school feeding, nutrition and education programs.

“We jointly proposed a program to provide poor children with meals at schools in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe,” Mr. Dole said. “In 2000, President Clinton authorized a two-year pilot program based on our proposal, and in 2002, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. Since its inception, the program has provided meals to 22 million children in 41 countries.”

Mr. McGovern retired from his position as ambassador in 2001 but remained active in world anti-hunger efforts. In 2001, the W.F.P. named Mr. McGovern as its first Goodwill Ambassador.

Mr. McGovern received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from President Clinton in 2000.
Mr. McGovern and Mr. Dole were awarded the 2008 World Food Prize for “their inspired, collaborative leadership that has encouraged a global commitment to school feeding and enhanced school attendance and nutrition for millions of the world’s children, especially girls.”

“I and everyone at the United Nations World Food Program today deeply mourn the loss of U.S. Senator George McGovern,” said Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the W.F.P. “He was a founding father of our organization, our first Goodwill Ambassador and a lifelong advocate for the hungry poor.”

Paul Maas, chairman of the North American Millers Association, said, “I was honored and privileged to have traveled with George McGovern on his last trip to Africa in 2010, a trip co-sponsored by NAMA. I saw the lasting effect his efforts had on thousands, if not millions of the world’s neediest children, through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program…As a leading association of companies whose mission is to be the link between grain and goodness, we are humbled to have worked closely with such a voice for nutritious foods to the hungry around the world”

Tributes to Mr. McGovern were posted in media around the world, and these perhaps were best summed up by Mr. Dole, who said, “There can be no doubt that throughout his half-century career in the public arena, George McGovern never gave up on his principles or in his determination to call our nation to a higher plain. American and the world are for the better because of him.”
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