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By the time the Mondales left Japan in 1996, Joan Mondale was better known in some quarters of the country than her husband.
“She gave us the sense that the U.S. was not just a country of products and trade deals,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, a Japanese broadcast executive.
The mugs she threw and fired, marked with her “JM,” probably don’t have a lot of monetary value because she was so generous in giving them away, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Monday.
But they hold memories of “someone who could be just as at ease on a farm in Elmore, Minnesota, and at an ambassador’s reception in Japan as at a potter’s kiln in the Warehouse District,” Klobuchar said. “She transcended parts of our state and our world.”
Road to Washington
Joan Adams was born in 1930 in Eugene, Ore., to the Rev. John Maxwell Adams, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Eleanor. The family moved to Pennsylvania and Ohio before her father became chaplain at Macalester College in St. Paul, where she graduated from Summit School and later Macalester with a concentration in history, art and French.
After graduation, she worked at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and then as a docent and lecturer at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
On a blind date, she met a budding Minneapolis lawyer named Walter Mondale; they married in 1955. After serving as Minnesota attorney general, he was named to the U.S. Senate seat vacated in 1964 after Hubert Humphrey was elected vice president, and the family moved to Washington, D.C.
In 1976, Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter picked the Minnesota senator to be his running mate in his successful bid for the White House. President Carter appointed Joan Mondale chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, giving her a national platform to promote public and private support for the arts.
Arvonne Fraser, the wife of former congressman and Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser, knew her as “full of energy and ideas. … It’s never easy to be the wife of a public official and try to have a life of your own, but she succeeded in this and I think it makes her a role model for a lot of other women in similar situations.”
At the same time, Fraser said, “she was always so good with her kids and so protective, so concerned about them and their lives.” She said she believed Mondale “declined a great deal” after her daughter Eleanor’s cancer and death.
In a 1992 book review for the Star Tribune, Joan Mondale wrote about the challenges of being a candidate’s wife and the importance of remaining her own person.
“A wife must try to help her husband deal with crises, all the while being true to herself,’’ she wrote. “And she must be focused and centered, with a clear idea of her own self-worth, to handle the thrills as well as the disappointments of running for office.”
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035