Eleanor Mondale Poling, the feisty media personality and daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale and his wife, Joan, died early Saturday of brain cancer, which she had battled for six years.
"Our wonderful daughter, after her long and gutsy battle with cancer, went up to heaven last night to be with her angel," her parents said in a prepared statement. Poling, who most recently had worked for WCCO-TV and its sister radio station, had been receiving hospice care at her farmstead in Prior Lake, where she died surrounded by family members. She was 51.
Her brain cancer was diagnosed in June 2005, after a seizure. Doctors at Rochester's Mayo Clinic found two tumors. With radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, her cancer was twice diminished. But a January 2008 checkup found another tumor.
In September 2010, a new form of chemotherapy appeared to be shrinking the tumor, but she said she was too tired to return to her job as co-host of WCCO Radio's "Mondale and Jones" show with co-host Susie Jones.
An unsigned tribute posted on her CaringBridge site Saturday read, in part: "Early Saturday morning ... our dearest sweet Eleanor passed away from this world, peacefully in her sleep, her husband and beloved dogs at her side, surrounded in the last days by all of her family and friends.
"Eleanor Mondale Poling lived bravely, without regret or fear, with such amazing strength and grace. ... Through her we learned to live like her, for the moment, with a full and loving heart. We will miss her unique, beautiful, strong soul."
Gov. Mark Dayton paid tribute to her on his Facebook page, saying, "from the shy teenager I first met, Eleanor transformed -- and transcended! -- into a very beautiful, poised, multi-talented, and accomplished woman. She loved her family, friends and animals, as she loved life. She battled her cancer heroically and endured its agonies courageously."
In 2005, she married Minneapolis musician Chan Poling, a founding member of the Suburbs. Previously, she was briefly married to Keith Van Horne, formerly of the Chicago Bears, and WLOL DJ Greg Thunder (Greg Malban).
She and Poling shared their farmstead with a cockatoo, two dogs, three chickens, two cats, five mini-horses and a mini-donkey.
Family ties were ever strong
Eleanor Jane Mondale, the middle child of three, was born in Minneapolis and was 4 when her father was appointed to the Senate seat that had been vacated by Hubert Humphrey when he became Lyndon Johnson's vice president.
As a teenager, she campaigned for her father, who lost to Ronald Reagan both as a vice presidential candidate in 1980 and as the top of the Democratic ticket in 1984. "She doesn't get intimidated, she has wonderful presence," Democratic volunteer Trudy Mason told the Star Tribune in 1984 after working Manhattan subway stops with Mondale.
Among the schools she attended, according to the Star Tribune profile, were Douglas School in Minneapolis, John Eaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C., and Georgetown (Washington) Dayschool from seventh to 11th grade.
She graduated from St. Timothy's School in Baltimore and St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. She spent her last semester of college studying in Kenya during what she called "the greatest time of my life -- every minute was, wow! We herded goats and camels, climbed mountains, killed beasts and drank the blood."
Her broadcasting career took her from Minnesota to Chicago to Los Angeles and back to Minnesota. Among her gigs were radio shows in Minnesota, reporting jobs with the E! Online cable channel, CBS' "This Morning" and ESPN, covering horse racing. She tried acting, appearing in an episode of "Three's Company," and playing small roles in movies, including 2004's "Mirage."
Most recently, Poling was co-host of 'CCO's "Mondale and Jones," from August 2006 until 2009. She also narrated the Melody Gilbert documentary "Fritz: The Walter Mondale story," which premiered at the Minnesota History Center in 2008.
In her younger years, the blue-eyed, husky-voiced blonde was often gossip fodder in the Twin Cities press, much to her distress. She made headlines when she dated Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1979 and Warren Zevon in 1990.
Fed up by the intense media coverage, she bolted for Los Angeles in 1993, vowing never to return. "I just felt like I was being attacked from all sides," she said. But she later gave up aspirations of a show-biz career, married Poling and embraced a quiet life.
"I just want to be at home with Chan, with my horses, dogs. Even my goldfish," Poling said in 2005 when her cancer was diagnosed. "I've got a happy, wonderful guy. I've never had anything like it. I'd like to live."
She is survived by her husband, her parents, and brothers Ted and William. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Staff writers Pamela Miller and Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431