On October 25, 2002, a plane carrying Senator Paul Wellstone; his wife, Sheila; their daughter, Marcia; and five others went down near Eveleth, killing everyone on board. Minnesota, indeed the country, would never be the same.
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DAVID WELLSTONE: Some people didn’t really like him. You could see that along the parade routes, the pockets that were for or against him. My dad didn’t care. He’d cross over and talk to them just the same—he wasn’t fazed. And they seemed to appreciate that. I’d see it time and again. They were like, I don’t agree with you, but I respect you. And they would vote for him.
MARY LOFY (family friend): There were no airs about either Paul or Sheila. Even after Paul was in Washington, my husband and I would see them there and they’d take us out to dinner and it’d be this little restaurant in a strip mall. They liked it because, in today’s terms, it represented the 99-percent, though they would never say that. Another time, in Minneapolis, Paul had been out for a run and wanted to go to breakfast—he showed up in running shorts and a muscle shirt. It had never occurred to him why he shouldn’t.
DAVID WELLSTONE: When he first got to the Senate, my dad didn’t quite understand how to be taken seriously. If you remember, in 1991, he was standing in a reception line for newly elected members of Congress and George H.W. Bush comes along and my dad tells him to spend more time on education and less on the Gulf War—Bush looks around and says, “Who is this chickenshit?”
SENATOR AL FRANKEN: There’s no question that he started out spectacularly bad, and then recovered pretty quickly. He did the right thing, trying to pick issues that aren’t partisan, like veteran’s issues—it’s not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s just about what we can do to make sure these people are returning and getting proper healthcare.
MARCIA AVNER (former Wellstone communications director): We wanted to use Paul’s time as purposefully as possible, so we did a fair amount of work with Sheila, too. Paul and Sheila were high-school sweethearts. She showed me once where they went to high school in Virginia and Lover’s Lane where they would sit in the car. They didn’t always agree but they had fun sorting it out.
Sheila had her own people she worked with, even in other senators’ offices, particularly on domestic violence. And Joe Biden [who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in the Senate] was so happy to have her doing it. He said that Sheila had done more on this issue than any member of the Senate and that in getting Paul he’d gotten a two-for-one.
That came in handy sometimes. Do you remember the Barbara Carlson Show on KSTP-AM, where she would interview guests in her hot tub? Now put yourself in the shoes of a press director—Paul’s not getting in the hot tub with Barbara. But I asked Sheila if she’d do it and she agreed. So I made up this long list of notes for the producer: can’t talk about their personal life, etc. I was worried. To my surprise, Barbara goes on the air and announces that she has been both a victim and a perpetrator of violence, saying, “This is the most important issue we face.” I wish I had a tape of that.
MARY LOFY: They held hands all the time—they were bound together. Any stories you hear about that sort of thing, it’s not exaggerated, it was real.
DAVID WELLSTONE: They were married for 39 years. And there were moments in the middle when times were tough. But at the very end, they were as much in love as I’d ever seen them. They loved doing what they were doing. They’d found their groove.
“THE PLANE IS NOT HERE”
MARY LOFY: Paul had said early on that he wouldn’t run a third time. Of course, it was not a wise thing to say—it’s the kind of thing a non-elected official says. But he really agonized over running again.
RICK KAHN: When he did announce a third campaign, he was resolute but it wasn’t a happy moment. It was just like, “The work isn’t finished.”
CONNIE LEWIS: This was after 9/11 and there was a lot of focus on defense and national security—things that were not the heart and soul of Paul’s work, which was education, healthcare, jobs. It was kind of a new environment for him.