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Former Aide: 'McGovern People's Politician'

October 24, 2012, 6:01 PM by Brady Mallory

Former Aide: 'McGovern People's Politician'
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

From photographs to political buttons to books, McGovern was all over the top of Berniece Mayer's table when KELOLAND News went to her house.

"I enjoyed every day I went to work. I had been a teacher and enjoyed that, too. But this was exciting," Mayer said.

Mayer met McGovern on November 22, 1963, in Washington D.C. when she was the President of the Mental Health Association for Minnehaha County.  It was a memorable time because it would also be the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. 

She volunteered for McGovern, and became an on-staff personal aide and field office constituent for McGovern from 1975-1980.  She rarely got one-on-one time with the U.S. Senator, except when they were in the car.

"He liked to drive and he particularly liked the year we had a 1968 Buick Regal. It had a big engine and he drove very fast," Mayer said.

Not only did he drive, but Mayer said he was also very talkative; however he also took the time to listen. McGovern was an advocate for Mayer's work for mental health. She was with him through the senate and the failed attempt at the White House.  The two remained friends, but she went back to work for him one more time during his final days.

"I saw the cards and the letters that came to the hospice house for him. I slit open the envelopes like I did in the old days, but did it with a nail file in my purse," Mayer said.

He was a years-long and storied politician, but it seems more people saw him as a person.  Mayer was reminded of that when she was visiting him in hospice, and met a man who had a brief, but obviously long-lasting encounter with McGovern.

"I saw a man who came in working clothes, shook my hand, he was very polite. He said, I carried his baggage at the airport.  Those were the people George McGovern represented," Mayer said.

It is a trait that has impacted Mayer.

"[It makes me feel] Humble, joyful, great deal of respect for a man who had a vision and carried out that vision," Mayer said.

As visions of the politician are scattered all over the place on her table, memories of the man have a special place in her heart.

"This is part of the problem of getting to my age. You lose a lot of your co-workers to death and frailty. I guess I feel that quite deeply now at this time," Mayer said.  "I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much I miss him."

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