Every Goodbye Ain't Gone

Wellstone Remembered

We were at a parade in Gilbert four years ago, campaigning together, and I fell in a sewer. I just walked right up to an uncovered manhole and stepped in. I was having back troubles myself then, I had a ruptured disc, and I was in agony. Paul just kind of came up behind me and pulled me up, and we went on. He was saying, "Just walk it off, keep moving," so we did. (Anderson)

 

Sy Schuster
RETIRED CARLETON COLLEGE PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS

After a year or so [at Carleton], Paul stopped going to faculty meetings. He said he just couldn't stand this business of operating by parliamentary procedure. And I said, That's the way you do it. The reason I tell you this is that Paul at that stage in his life didn't like the idea of a senate--the faculty committee. He didn't join electoral politics for quite a while. When you're younger, sometimes you're more emotional and don't have patience. It might have been that.

Before he grew into electoral politics, he [led] an organization of welfare people, the Organization for a Better Rice County. We had lots of people [on welfare]; we still do. Mainly mothers who were abandoned and had kids to take care of, and then there were people who had jobs but were just poor. What he did was get a lot of these people together. He was really trying to organize welfare mothers. There were men in it, too. And he explained to these people, Now you don't have to be treated the way you're treated by the county commissioners. They thought that they were really being kicked around, and they were. It was just terrible. He was upset about that. And he said, We can use state law to appeal these decisions. So he started appealing for them--he showed them how to appeal--and he would run the appeals for a while. And they never lost a case. (Tortorello)

 

Lorraine Cecil
LONGTIME DFL ACTIVIST, RETIRED ENGLISH PROFESSOR AT BEMIDJI STATE UNIVERSITY

The first time I met Paul was when he ran for auditor. It was a brief encounter. He'd been up to Bemidji State to visit my husband, who was also a political scientist. As time went on, Paul was in Bemidji more and more. He and my husband and I got to be good friends. Three years ago, when my husband was in the hospital dying, Paul called the hospital to talk to him and me. He came up for the funeral, and he spoke about his relationship with my husband. It was a beautiful, moving tribute. My children and I will never forget that.

I had some relatives come to the funeral from North Dakota. They only knew about Paul in the vaguest way, but they were extremely impressed that at a man of that stature would come to the funeral of just an ordinary citizen. This was not the only funeral he attended and, obviously, this is why he's dead today: because he took one more trip to go to one more funeral. It breaks your heart. When he died all I could see in my mind's eye was him standing up at the front of the church and talking at my husband's funeral. I kept wishing that my husband knew that Paul came to his funeral.

My own activism has meant a great deal to me, and one of the reasons is Paul Wellstone. At my age, I've been saying a lot of goodbyes. This one is extremely painful. (Mosedale)

 

Mike and Nancy Casper
FRIENDS AND PARTNERS IN ACTIVISM WITH THE WELLSTONES

Nancy:It's hard to read the paper. We're absorbing the whole thing a little bit at a time.

Mike:Paul and Sheila and I all grew up within a mile of each other in Arlington, Virginia, but we didn't know each other then.

Nancy:Paul was best man at our wedding--August 25, 1979. And Paul, who just wasn't a suit guy, came to our wedding in an orange turtleneck and a heavy tweed jacket, a winter-weight jacket. And this was the heat of August. It may have been the only jacket he had.

Mike:That day he came rushing back from a meeting on power lines. We weren't sure he was going to make it on time.

He and Sheila were very, very close. To me she was the ultimate foundation. She took care of the money [laughs]. When Paul got to Washington, it was clear she was going to be very involved. And I think it was hard for her at first to balance it with family. They were very private about family, really. They didn't have lot of social life in Washington.

I spent a day on this campaign traveling with Paul on the green bus. We started in Minneapolis and moved north to Milaca and then to a powwow on French Lake. Paul loves to talk. Wherever he was, he would talk all day. (Perry)

 

Marie Zellar STATE DIRECTOR, MINNESOTA CLEAN WATER ACTION When I got the news, I was at lunch and our receptionist called me on my cell phone and it was kind of like one of those cheesy cell phone commercials where you can't quite hear people right. I thought he said that one of Wellstone's campaign plans had crashed, and I said, Which plan? A plan that we're a part of? What are you talking about? And he was like, "No, no, one of his planes crashed." We still didn't know then that he was on the plane, and I still sort of thought or hoped that there was a chance that he'd taken the car, because he hated to fly. I went back to the office and we immediately called all of our canvassing off, but all these people came in anyway just to be together. And we all just sat around and shared stories. You know how tough this business is, and how many people are always tempted to just walk away from it because it's ugly, and we're getting our asses kicked, and the legislative process sucks--sometimes you're just tempted to throw up your hands and go get a job at Burger King. But Paul wouldn't let you do that. He had an amazing ability to snap you out of that, and to help you to find your second or third or fourth wind. I mean, he's got MS, and he's got a horrible, chronically bad back and he's been doing this for 12 years, and still there he is bouncing all over your office. You don't hear a lot about the bad stuff he prevented from happening. There was an awful lot of time and energy he had to spend playing defense, and it goes way beyond the environment. He did some amazing stuff in terms of strategizing and stymieing things that were steamrolling ahead--things like rollbacks on enforcement authority for the EPA, ANWAR, giving federal authority back to the states, attacks on the Clean Water Act, energy packages, all sorts of stuff that even other environmental advocates in Congress had thrown up their hands over. He'd figure out some way to stop it, and he'd get everybody he needed on the same page to make sure it didn't happen. His legacy to me is that he really convinced me that I could do my job, when I really didn't believe that and nobody else had any reason to believe that. I had this ridiculous vision for what we wanted Clean Water Action to accomplish, and he convinced me that I wasn't completely insane. His whole thing was really just very old-fashioned politics--go out and talk to the people and build relationships at street level, and that's how you get things accomplished. Don't sit there and worry and wring your hands, just go out and do what needs to be done and what you know how to do. And call me if you need any help. (Zellar)

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