During his final days, George Pillsbury could share his thoughts only with gestures, not words. But those who knew him best were certain that he was signaling that he wanted the fundraiser he and his wife Sally were hosting for DFL congressional candidate Jim Graves to proceed as scheduled on Thursday. And it did.
Pillsbury died about 34 hours later at the place he loved best, his home on Lake Minnetonka.
His final political act said much about his abiding concern for his state and nation. Pillsbury was a Republican for most of his days. But since leaving the state Senate in 1982, he has not been a happy one.
He strived mightily to reform today’s Republican Party, to widen its philosophical tent to include reproductive freedom for women, same-sex marriage, and wider distribution of the fruits of capitalism. He reasoned that aiding the defeat of Sixth District U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a culture warrior and Tea Party founder, might hasten the transformation he sought.
At age 91, Pillsbury knew he would not see the fruits of his effort. But as one whose Minnesota frame of reference reached back to Gov. John S. Pillsbury’s arrival at the Falls of St. Anthony in 1855, his sense of stewardship for this state included a long view.
The view included nearly 40 years of work on a long-shot cause, the elimination of the state Senate to create a unicameral Legislature. More recently, it involved advocacy for an idea with better prospects, ranked-choice voting.
George worked a pitch for both ideas into most of the three dozen events at which we appeared together since our book, “The Pillsburys of Minnesota,” was released by Nodin Press in April 2011. I got the sense that for him and his remarkable wife Sally, Minnesota’s betterment was a family project. He deeply loved this state, and as I witnessed, he was loved by thousands of Minnesotans in return.