Former Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton dies at 77

Psychiatric disclosure halted McGovern run

March 05, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Former Missouri Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, whose star-crossed nomination as vice presidential candidate on the disastrous 1972 Democratic ticket sealed his place in American political history, died yesterday morning of heart and respiratory ailments.

He was 77.

Mr. Eagleton spent four decades in public life, yet will be forever remembered as the brief and ill-fated running mate of South Dakota Sen. George McGovern.

But when he ran for re-election to the Senate two years later, Missourians rallied around him. He won by a quarter-million-vote margin.

In the Senate, his interests ranged from foreign affairs to the cause of self-government in the District of Columbia. His gravelly voice would echo through the ornate chamber and colleagues would listen.

He looked the part, too, from his expertly tailored button-down appearance, to his handsome, graying features. But he was always just "Tom" to the public.

He retired from the Senate in 1986 at age 57 after three terms. His Missouri colleague, then-Republican Sen. John C. Danforth, called him "a fighter for the people and institutions of our state" known for "his moral passion ... that wrongs be made right."

Returning to his hometown to teach, write and practice law, he said jokingly, "I wanted to make this metamorphosis while I was still suitable to be recycled."

Mr. Eagleton was born in St. Louis on Sept. 4, 1929. Politics became his passion early. "The way other kids wanted to be farmers or firemen or cowboys, I wanted to be a politician," he once said.

After graduating from Amherst College and Harvard Law School, he became assistant general counsel to Anheuser-Busch Inc. Next came a series of Missouri political firsts: at 27, the youngest candidate to be elected St. Louis circuit attorney; at 31, the state's youngest attorney general; at 35, the youngest lieutenant governor.

He won a Senate seat in 1968 and became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. He was Mr. McGovern's seventh choice for running mate in the 1972 presidential campaign against President Richard M. Nixon.

But the disclosure that he had earlier undergone psychiatric shock treatments helped doom the ticket. Mr. McGovern, who hadn't known about the treatment, replaced him with Sargent Shriver. Mr. Eagleton called the episode "one rock in the landslide."

The U.S. federal courthouse in St. Louis is named after him.

Mr. Eagleton had been ill for several months. He died about 11:30 a.m. yesterday at St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond Heights, Mo. He had been a patient there for about a week.

A spokesman said he had been in declining health for several months with heart, respiratory and other ailments.

"The totality of it just overwhelmed him," said spokesman Mark Abels.

Plans were being made for a Saturday memorial service, but details were still being worked out.

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