Sondra Samuels said aloud what others had been thinking Wednesday at a salute to two of Minnesota's favorite nonagenarians, former Gov. Al Quie and former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser: "I am so honored that we are not here doing a eulogy!"
Quie and Fraser were undoubtedly glad about that too.
But it was more than longevity and past accomplishments that were being praised as the two former elected officials, one Republican, one DFLer, were honored as part of the Citizens League's annual meeting and the sixth annual observance of the "Common Quest for Common Ground" series established in honor of the late Humphrey School dean John Brandl.
Samuels called attention to the work Quie and Fraser are still doing, today more together than apart, to spur organizations such as the one she heads, the Northside Achievement Zone, to lift families out of poverty via improved education for their children. With a voice thick with emotion, Samuels called them "my brothers" because "they love children and they love justice."
Republican Quie and DFLer Fraser were contemporaries in the state Senate in the 1950s and in Congress in the 1960s and 1970s. They developed a relationship of mutual respect, if not yet friendship, and occasional collaboration on matters such as civil rights at a time when bipartisanship was more evident in Washington.
But as their parties became increasingly polarized, these two elder statesmen drew closer in the Twin Cities. They became friends and partners as senior advisers to those trying to enroll more young children in quality preschool and deepen parental involvement in their children's schooling. Though Quie is 91 and Fraser 90, their work continues, "the embodiment of a distinctive Minnesota ethic that prizes lifelong civic responsibility and commitment," wrote Dane Smith of Growth & Justice.
They are an inspiration in many ways, not least this: They did some of their best public work when they ceased trying to win the next election for themselves or their party, and instead focused on future generations. That message may be lost on today's crop of candidates in the days before a general election. But chances are good that Fraser and Quie will still be conveying that message by persistent, committed example, long after next Tuesday's election is over.