June Margoles, savvy political activist

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2010 - 11:06 PM

She ran the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in Minnesota's Fourth District.

Muriel (June) Margoles, who poured her political savvy and passion for social justice into campaign work for prominent political figures, died of cancer Saturday in her St. Paul home. She was 88.

"She had such a flair for life, and it shone through in everything she did," said her brother, Lawrence Cohen, a former St. Paul mayor and Ramsey County District judge.

Margoles was born in St. Paul and spent her life there except for a stint in the mid-1940s in California, where her husband, Simon, was hospitalized for wounds suffered in World War II, said her son, Alan Margoles, a St. Paul defense attorney. Her father nicknamed her June when her birth name, Muriel, became uncomfortably associated with a popular cigar, Cohen said.

She went to St. Paul Central High School, where her soaring soprano graced many a musical, her son said. For 70 years, that voice also rang out at St. Paul's Temple of Aaron synagogue, where she joined the choir at age 16.

She and Simon had two children, Alan and Susan. Susan died of ALS in 1994. Alan said the only time his mother's activism waned was during the time when she cared for her dying daughter.

His earliest memory of his mother's activism was the League of Women Voters meetings she held in their home. In the early 1960s, she ran her first political campaign -- for Katie McWatt, the first black woman to run for St. Paul City Council.

Other campaigns she ran included those for Sandy Keith in his 1966 gubernatorial primary campaign and for Don Fraser in his 1978 U.S. Senate primary campaign. Most prominently, she oversaw Eugene McCarthy's 1968 and George McGovern's 1972 presidential bids in Minnesota's Fourth District.

Most personally, she oversaw campaigns for her brother, who was elected Ramsey County commissioner in 1970, served as St. Paul's mayor from 1972 to '76, and who was appointed a judge in 1988.

Margoles also served on the board of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and on the DFL State Central Committee's executive board.

"In many houses, politics is a no-no to talk about. The politics was always discussed at our house," Alan Margoles said. "But she had a way of doing it where nobody would get angry. ... I never saw her angry, either. She was firm in her convictions, but she could do it without nastiness.

"One of my strongest memories is of how she'd run campaigns out of her kitchen," he said. "Those were the days before cordless phones. She had a 26-foot cord on her phone so she could race around the kitchen cooking and talking. That cord had burn marks all over it because she was always on the phone while she stood at the stove."

In addition to her son and brother, Margoles is survived by three grandchildren. Services will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Temple of Aaron, 616 S. Mississippi River Blvd., St. Paul.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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