A former U.S. Senator has been delivering food to George McGovern's family as they hold their bedside vigil at a Sioux Falls hospice. The 90-year-old McGovern remains unresponsive. Jim Abourezk calls his former Senate colleague a mentor as well as a friend.
Abourezk had lunch with McGovern just days before McGovern entered hospice.
"We had a lively conversation, we always talked about the old days, about the senate, the senators we knew," Abourezk said.
Abourezk was stunned and saddened by McGovern's rapid decline.
"For me, great sadness, great sadness, I've lost a number of friends lately and it's hard to take, very hard to take," Abourezk said.
Abourezk's friendship with McGovern goes back more than a half-century. They were political allies; fellow Democrats in a very Republican state. Abourezk ran for the U.S. Senate in 1972, the same year McGovern was campaigning for President.
"When I ran for office, he helped me, he raised money for me, he supported me, he made speeches for me," Abourezk said.
Election Night 1972 was a bittersweet time for Abourezk. His triumphant Senate bid was tempered by McGovern's landslide loss.
"I think if George McGovern had been elected president, this would be an entirely different country, we would have stayed out of all these unnecessary wars," Abourezk said.
Abourezk says McGovern's dedication to public service can be a lesson for everyone.
"In my mind, George McGovern is one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, because he taught morality, he taught integrity and he lived it," Abourezk said.
Just one month into his Senate term, Abourezk accompanied McGovern to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973 to try and negotiate a settlement with protesters from the American Indian Movement who had occupied Wounded Knee. That standoff would last 71 days.