George McGovern Near Death: How Great White Eagle Fought to End World Hunger

As McGovern’s final hours draw to a close, his friends, family, and neighbors have shown an outpouring of support for his life’s mission – feeding the hungry.  They answered his family’s call to help stock the shelves of feedingsouthdakota.org, an organization that benefited from McGovern’s insights in combating hunger. In the first part of this series, we learned of McGovern’s humble beginnings.  The second part covered his entry into political life.  This segment shows how one man and opportunity can shape, and change, the world for the betterment of all.

Senator McGovern remains unresponsive in hospice care and friends remain shocked with his rapid decline. In a short sit-down interview with local news station, friend, fellow Democrat, and former Senator Jim Abourezk, shared that he had lunch with McGovern only days before he entered hospice and is now delivering meals to McGovern’s family

When asked about George McGovern, Abourezk said, “He taught morality. He taught integrity.  And he lived it. “When it came to his fight to combat hunger, McGovern crossed party lines and partnered with numerous people to raise awareness to the problem, including Republican Bob Dole. McGovern was presented with many unique opportunities in his lifetime. All of which he used to full-fill his life’s mission and passion – feeding the hungry.

In 1960, McGovern gave up his House seat in an unsuccessful bid for Senate. His past support of Wallace cost him the election, but opened an opportunity to bring his fight against hunger to a new level, as Special Assistant to the President and the first director of Kennedy’s Food for Peace program. 

He believed that food could be used to enable foreign economic development and worked to open new markets in areas like South America. He was also an active participant in meetings at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. 

Within the first year of operation, the Food for Peace program had reached nearly 12 countries, and fed 10 million more people than the year before. McGovern oversaw an expanded school lunch program in India feeding one in five Indian school children. His initiatives won praises from the Vatican and world leaders. All of his efforts benefited wheat farmers back home along with his fellow citizens who went hungry. McGovern leveraged his UN experience and became one of the leading visionaries of the UN’s World Food Programme. 

In 1962, McGovern decided to make a second run at the Senate seat. In a heated contest, McGovern appealed to worries of the outflow of young people from the state and had the backing of the Farmer’s Union. In the final weeks of the campaign, McGovern had a relapse of hepatitis (obtained while receiving shots for his South American trips with Food for Peace). His wife, Eleanor, stepped up and helped him win the election. 

The freshman Senator was given a seat on the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee along with the State Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. In his fight for farmers back home, he often butted heads with fellow Democrat and Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman, as McGovern pushed for higher farm prices and controls on beef imports. He showed his moxie in 1966 when he presented a resolution chastising the Secretary of Agriculture. Freshman Teddy Kennedy saw McGovern’s strength and utilized McGovern’s expertise to build coconscious for agricultural votes. McGovern quickly became Kennedy’s go-to-guy for all things and hunger.

McGovern also butted heads with Democrat Henry Jackson who was the Interior Chief at the time. His interior activities were limited. In 1967, McGovern was named chair of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. Jackson did not provide staff for McGovern. Yet, in 1969, McGovern was able to pass a resolution regarding Indian self-determination. The Olgala Sioux tribe honored McGovern by giving him his Indian Name, “Great White Eagle.” Great White Eagle continued his fight to end hunger on the reservation long after his political career ended. 

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Jeanne Vickery

College educated business professional.

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