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Former U.S. Senator Tom Eagleton dies at 77


By Bill Raack, KWMU / AP

St. Louis, MO – Former U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton died Sunday in St. Louis.

Tom Eagleton's life in Missouri politics started at the age of 27 when he was elected St. Louis circuit attorney. He went on to serve as Missouri's attorney general, lt. governor and U.S. Senator. He represented the state in the Senate from 1968 to 1987, during which he helped to end America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Eagleton is likely best known nationally as a one-time vice-presidential candidate. He won the nomination in 1972 as George McGovern's running mate, but had to step down from the campaign when his hospitalization for depression became known.

After leaving Congress, Eagleton remained active in the St. Louis community, teaching law at several universities and spearheading the effort to bring the football Rams to St. Louis in 1995. The new federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis was named in Eagleton's honor in 2000.

He had been ill for several months with various heart and respiratory problems. Eagleton was 77 years old. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and two children.

In a telephone interview on Sunday, McGovern said he erred in removing Eagleton. He said Democrats could have won the election if he had kept Eagleton on the ticket.

"My first reaction was to say I was going to stay with him," McGovern said. "But gosh, the outcry across the country was pretty intense. We felt that since we were starting a new campaign we needed to get that off the front page and we needed to get Tom to step down.

"But I think that was a mistake," McGovern said, who called Eagleton's death "a real loss to the country."

"No. 1, people liked him personally. They liked his enthusiasm. Republicans seemed to like him as well as Democrats," McGovern said.

McGovern, 84, said he often traveled to St. Louis to stay with the Eagletons, usually taking in a Cardinals game or two. The two exchanged books and articles and consulted on ideas for speeches.

Eagleton, a leading advocate of environmental reforms and a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam, had no illusions about how he would be best-remembered.

"In my obituary, it will probably be, 'Tom Eagleton, United States senator for Missouri, for a short time the vice presidential candidate on the McGovern ticket in 1972,' so that will be in my first paragraph," Eagleton told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview.

Former Republican Senator John Danforth, a longtime friend, called Eagleton, "a person of high principle and consistent good humor."

Eagleton was considered liberal, but he criticized busing to achieve school desegregation and, as a practicing Roman Catholic, strongly opposed abortion.

"He made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam," said Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. "He'll long be remembered for his outrage over the senseless bombing of Cambodia and for his leadership in the anti-war effort."

Eagleton won a second term in 1974 by a lopsided majority. The 1980 race was much closer, when he defeated St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary by 89,460 votes out of more than 2 million ballots cast.

After he retired from the Senate in January 1987, Eagleton returned to St. Louis where he practiced law, taught at Washington University and did work as a television political commentator and occasional newspaper contributor.

He was also an activist for St. Louis, playing a key role in luring the NFL's Rams to relocate from Los Angeles in 1995, chairing the fan group that secured financing for the move. The federal courthouse in St. Louis is named after him.

Most recently, he was co-chairman for the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which backed a successful constitutional amendment in November guaranteeing that all federally allowed stem cell research also can occur in Missouri.

Significant hearing loss curtailed some of Eagleton's activities, but he was sought out by younger Democrats seeking advice and encouragement. Among his proteges was former Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Eagleton told The AP in 2003 that he had no regrets: "Being vice president ain't all that much. My ambition, since my senior year in high school, was to be a senator."


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