George McGovern sat near a cake inspired by the Capitol dome and marking his 90th birthday. For the party last night at the Newseum, the former senator bore up well under a shower of tributes.
Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, extended a glass of wine. “Too bad you’re a Methodist,” he quipped about McGovern’s aversion to alcohol.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, called McGovern “one of my heroes.”
Senator John Thune, McGovern’s fellow South Dakotan and one of the few Republicans in the room, allowed that his father was a McGovern supporter.
Many recalled the impact McGovern had on them as young idealists.
Victoria Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, said she cast her first vote for McGovern.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, recalled working the phones in a dirt-floor campaign office and said the experience was “one of the thrills of my life.”
Representative Jim McGovern (no relation) and Representative Barney Frank, both Massachusetts Democrats, brought along campaign posters from 1972, the year McGovern ran for president.
The progressive McGovern “had no business representing South Dakota,” joked Frank about the state’s reputation for provinciality.
Michael Mershon, a congressional press secretary, wore an original 1972 McGovern-Shriver lapel pin. Also present was Mark Shriver, the son of the late Sargent Shriver, McGovern’s running mate in 1972.
“Thank you for being born,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
A buffet of tomato and mozzarella salad, mashed potatoes and roast beef was available, and small slices of pizza were passed before waiters served the birthday cake.
The party was hosted by the World Food Program USA, a nonprofit fighting hunger worldwide. Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, was present last night and is a board member.
Jack Quinn, the co-founder of Quinn Gillespie & Associates LLC, and Representative McGovern were among the event’s sponsors.
Child hunger has become McGovern’s signature issue. He, along with former Majority Leader Bob Dole, who turns 89 later this month, started the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which has provided meals for millions of children all over the world. Both won the World Food Prize in 2008.
Photos of McGovern interacting with children through the years appeared on large screens.
Responding to his well-wishers, McGovern informed the crowd that he passed his recent physical with flying colors.
“Let’s do this again in another 10 years,” he said.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include: Jeremy Gerard on theater.