Bill Clinton on Joan Mondale: 'Wise' and 'graceful' as Second Lady

Bill Clinton and Hilllary Clinton said they were saddened by Joan Mondale's passing, but honored by her friendship.  President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama praised her many contributions to the arts community.

By , Associated Press

Former President Bill Clinton is describing Joan Mondale as wise and graceful.

The wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale died Monday at age 83.

In a statement, Clinton said he and his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were saddened to hear of Mondale's passing and were honored by her and her husband's friendship for more than 35 years.

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Walter Mondale was named U.S. ambassador to Japan during Clinton's administration.

Clinton said Joan Mondale was "graceful in her role as our nation's Second Lady as she was unwavering in her support of art and artists."

He said she happily devoted her life to her family and public service. He said their hearts and prayers go out to their family.

Joan Mondale was given a grand platform when her husband was elected Jimmy Carter's vice president in 1976. And she used it.

The avid arts advocate lobbied Congress and the states for more spending on arts programs, and she traveled frequently to museums, theaters and artists' studios on the Carter administration's behalf. She was so passionate that she earned the nickname "Joan of Art" and, in the process of pushing her cause, transformed the role of the second lady.

As Carter's No. 2, Walter Mondale was seen as a trusted adviser and credited with making the office of the vice president more relevant. It was natural that his wife would do the same for her role. Vice presidential aide Al Eisele once said of his boss: "It was important to him that Joan not just be the vice president's wife, but his partner."

Joan Mondale, herself an avid potter, died Monday afternoon with her husband, sons Ted and William, and other family members by her side, the family said in a statement. She was 83.

"Joan was greatly loved by many. We will miss her dearly," the former vice president said in a written statement.

The family had announced Sunday that she had gone into hospice care, but declined to discuss her illness.

Walter Mondale, who later became ambassador to Japan, was elected Carter's vice president in 1976. Soon after, Carter named Joan Mondale honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, and she used that role to push for arts programs on the administration's behalf.

She also showcased the work of prominent artists in the vice presidential residence, including photographer Ansel Adams, sculptor David Smith and painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

"She was exemplary in using the opportunities public service provided to advance the arts and other issues important to her and many Americans," Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, said in a statement released late Monday.

Her enthusiasm for the cause earned widespread praise in the arts community, including from Jim Melchert, director of the visual arts program for the National Endowment for the Arts during Carter's administration.

"Your rare fire has brightened many a day for more people than you may imagine," Melchert wrote to her after the 1980 Carter-Mondale ticket lost to Regan-Bush. "What you've done with style and seeming ease will continue illuminating our world for a long time to come."

Joan Mondale would later take her cultural zeal overseas when her husband was named U.S. ambassador to Japan during President Bill Clinton's administration.

During her husband's ambassadorship, Joan Mondale relished the chance to study Japanese art and give dignitaries clay pots she made as gifts. In her 1972 book, "Politics in Art," Joan Mondale framed a connection between the two.

"Sometimes we do not realize how important our participation in politics is. Often we need to be reminded of our duty as citizens," she wrote. "Artists can do just that; they can look at our politicians, our institutions and our problems to help us understand them better."

She was born Joan Adams in Oregon, on Aug. 8, 1930. She and her two sisters moved several times during childhood as their father, a Presbyterian minister, took new assignments. The family finally settled in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Joan would earn an undergraduate degree at Macalester College.

It was the same liberal arts school that Walter Mondale attended, but they were a few years apart and didn't meet until 1955, when one of Joan's sisters arranged a blind date. Six months later they were engaged, and they married soon after.

She dabbled in Democratic Party politics as a ward chairwoman, though she focused on her family as her husband built a political career. Joan tended to a family that would eventually include sons Ted and William and a daughter, Eleanor, who died in 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer.

When Walter Mondale was tapped to fill the Senate seat vacated by Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey in 1964, the family headed to Washington.

There, Joan Mondale immersed herself in the capital's art scene. She gave weekly tours at the National Gallery of Art and took pottery lessons. Even when her husband was campaigning as Carter's vice president, she tried to keep up with regular ceramics classes.

On Monday, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama noted and praised her many contributions to the arts community.

"Through her contributions to the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities and the Kennedy Center, she passionately advocated for the role of art in the life of our nation and the promotion of understanding worldwide," the Obamas said in a statement.

A service is scheduled for Saturday in Minneapolis.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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