Former Vice President Walter Mondale died Monday at age 93, his family confirmed in a statement. Mondale, who was the the 1984 Democratic nominee for president and also served as a longtime senator from Minnesota, died "peacefully from natural causes," the family said.
"It is with profound sadness that we share news that our beloved dad passed away today in Minneapolis, Minnesota," Mondale's family said.
The son of a minister, Mondale, known as Fritz, became one of Minnesota's most famous political figures in a state known for Democratic politicians. He was selected in 1964 to replace then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a mentor, in the Senate. In his 12 years in the U.S. Senate, Mondale followed in the footsteps of Humphrey, the lead author of the Civil Rights Act, in championing civil rights and other progressive causes.
In the statement announcing his death, Mondale's family emphasized his work in passing civil rights legislation and the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
"The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was one of his proudest – and hardest fought – achievements," Mondale's family said. "In the course of his years in the U.S. Senate, he understood the sense of reckoning that this country then faced, and was committed to that work alongside Hubert Humphrey, Josie Johnson, Roy Wilkins and so many others. We are grateful that he had the opportunity to see the emergence of another generation of civil rights reckoning in the past months."
Jimmy Carter, the governor from Georgia who had improbably won the Democratic nomination in 1976, turned to Mondale when he needed a "Northern presence" on the ticket — and someone who had a liberal track record. Despite being relatively unknown, the pair narrowly prevailed over President Gerald Ford, who was severely weakened by Watergate and Vietnam.
In a statement after Mondale's death, Mr. Carter called Mondale a "dear friend" and said he considers him the "greatest vice president in our country's history."
"During our administration, Fritz used his political skill and personal integrity to transform the vice presidency into a dynamic, policy-driven force that had never been seen before and still exists today," Mr. Carter said. "He was an invaluable partner and an able servant to the people of Minnesota."
President Biden issued a statement late Monday saying, "It's with great sadness that Jill and I learned of the passing of Vice President Walter Mondale, but great gratitude that we were able to call one of our nation's most dedicated patriots and public servants a dear friend and mentor."
Former President Obama tweeted Monday night that Mondale "championed progressive causes and changed the role of VP—so leaders like @JoeBiden could be the last ones in the room when decisions were made. In selecting Geraldine Ferraro, he also paved the way for @VP to make history."
Mondale attended Macalester College in St. Paul before transferring to the University of Minnesota, where he also received his law degree. He served in the U.S. Army for two years and married his wife, Joan, in 1955. The pair were married for nearly 60 years until her death in 2014. They had three children: Ted, William and Eleanor, who died in 2011.
Mondale first became involved in Democratic party politics in 1948 when Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis, was running for Senate. Humphrey won national attention in that election calling for the Democratic party to focus on civil rights. It set the tone for Democrats from Minnesota for decades to come.
Mondale practiced law in Minneapolis before being selected to take over as state attorney general in 1960. He won two elections in his own right before being selected to replace Humphrey in the Senate.
As a senator, Mondale championed the Civil Rights Act as well as environmental protection, consumer protection, tax reform, desegregation of schools and filibuster reform.
Mondale ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1976 election, but dropped out early before being selected as Mr. Carter's running mate. Mr. Carter, who was portraying himself as an outsider who would clean up Washington, needed an insider on the ticket. The pair carried the South along with a few crucial northern states — New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among others — winning 297 Electoral College votes.
Mondale was the first vice president to have an office in the White House, and he served as a close adviser to Mr. Carter. Mondale traveled widely and was instrumental in the Camp David Accords, his family said.
But Mr. Carter's presidency was plagued by what he himself referred to as the "crisis of confidence" during a speech that became known as the "malaise speech" that, according to The New York Times, Mondale advised him not to give. Republican challenger Ronald Reagan sailed to the White House in the 1980 election, winning all but four states and Washington, D.C.
Mondale was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1984. But he had a surprise up his sleeve: He made history by choosing Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, the first woman ever on a major party ticket. There wouldn't be another woman on the ticket until Sarah Palin in 2008, and a woman wouldn't be elected vice president until Kamala Harris in 2020.
In a statement Monday night, Harris called Ferraro's selection "a bold and historic choice." Harris said Mondale "led an extraordinary life of service."
But Mondale's campaign was no match for Reagan's soaring popularity. At the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Mondale bluntly said he would raise taxes and Reagan countered with the famous "morning in America" ad. At a presidential debate, Reagan smoothly handled questions about his advanced age, quipping "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Mondale would later say he thought that was when the campaign ended.
Mondale and Ferraro would lose every state but Minnesota and Washington, D.C. Mondale went back to Minnesota to practice law, but he returned to public service in 1993 with the election of President Bill Clinton. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan and also chaired a bipartisan group to study campaign finance reform and served as the President's Special Envoy to Indonesia in 1998.
Mondale briefly returned to electoral politics in 2002 after Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Close with Wellstone, Mondale, then 74, was selected to replace the late senator on the ballot. In 2003, he told Minnesota Public Radio it was a "joy" to return to the campaign trail.
But Wellstone's memorial turned into something of a political rally, and Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with a tragedy. Mondale was defeated by Norm Coleman —the last time a Republican has won a Senate seat in Minnesota.
Mondale largely retired from public life. In his final days, after sending a final farewell note to 300 of his current and former staffers, he was inundated with phone calls — including from Mr. Biden and Harris — a spokesperson said.
He wrote to his staff:
"Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!
"Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.
"Joe in the White House certainly helps.
"I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!"
— Jamie Yuccas, Kristin Brown and Ed O'Keefe contributed reporting.
First published on April 19, 2021 / 7:05 PM MDT
© 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.