EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series examining the events of 40 years ago that led to Mitchell native George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination and run for the White House.
By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
George McGovern had a lot of things going against him this week 40 years ago.
He was well behind in all polls in his bid to unseat President Richard Nixon. He was being outspent by Nixon. His campaign was still troubled by his unique change in running mates. And he was running out of time with the election less than a month away.
But the South Dakota senator still had the unwavering support of his family.
On Oct. 8, 1972, a story on his sisters Olive Briles and Mildred Brady appeared in The New York Times. Their brother George was still their hero, they said.
“He still believes he’s going to win,” Briles said. “I don’t believe there’s much doubt in his mind.”
There were four siblings in the McGovern clan: George, Larry, Olive and Mildred. The sisters said George reminded them of their late father, the Rev. Joseph McGovern, a strong-willed man who played professional baseball, built churches and raised his children to be involved in their community and country. Their brother was even starting to look a lot like him.
“George and my dad are an awful lot alike,” Briles said. “Neither one pays attention to odds.”
There was one major difference, however. Their father was hot-tempered, they said, while George was a calm, peaceful person who never seemed to get mad, even over the disastrous choice of Sen. Tom Eagleton, D-Mo., as his first running mate.
Briles said she would have “blown my top” over the news that Eagleton had hidden his past treatments for mental illness, which included electroshock therapy. The disclosure rocked the campaign.
While they expressed their pride in their brother George, the sisters also said they were pulling for Larry, five years younger than his famous brother. Larry, the story stated, was a twice-divorced “rebel” who had struggled with alcoholism and mental issues. While George ran for president, Larry worked to land a job as a counselor at a treatment facility in northeast South Dakota.
Getting that post was as important to the family as George winning the White House, they said.
Briles taught English and American studies in Sisseton, while Brady was a nursing supervisor at an Iowa home for the elderly. She took a leave, however, to work on the campaign.
Her work on his campaign was a switch from her feelings from a day in the 1930s when the 12-year-old George and his younger sister had a squabble, she admitted to The Times. When asked by his mother what he planned to do with his life, George said he wasn’t sure, but he wanted to learn as much as he could and do as much as he could for as many people as possible.
“I know it,” Mildred said. “I just know it. He’s going to grow up to be president — but I’m not going to vote for him.”
But long before this week in 1972, she had changed her mind about that.