Former US Senator George McGovern
Former US Senator George McGovernReuters

Former US Senator George McGovern, who ran for president three times in his life, has died at the age of 90.

A spokesman for the family told The Associated Press by telephone the longtime lawmaker had died peacefully at a Sioux City hospice, surrounded by family and friends, early Sunday morning.

The South Dakota Democrat was a proud liberal who was deeply opposed to the Vietnam War. He said he had learned to hate war by waging it, having served in the military and been decorated in World War II as a bomber pilot. On two separate missions, his aircraft was hit, once several times. He managed to bring his plane back to base safely both times.

Born in 1922 and raised in the farm town of Avon, SD, he was raised in Mitchell and learned the art of debate on a high school team. McGovern attended Dakota Wesleyan University and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He also married his wife that year, Eleanor Stegeberg, with whom he had five children together. Eleanor died in 2008.

McGovern earned a master's and then a doctoral degree in history and political science, and taught at Dakota Wesleyan University.

The son of a Methodist minister, he exhibited a plain-spoken style that in another era might have served him well. But it did little to help him at a time when the American people were seeking a “star.”

Ironically, his opponents in the 1972 elections, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew, would both later be forced to resign in connection with accusations of corruption.

The entire experience taught a young campaign worker an important lesson, however: Bill Clinton learned early in his own political career to thoroughly investigate his own staff prior to hiring them. Clinton also credits McGovern as an inspiration for his own public service.

An author of eight books, three different presidents also asked George McGovern to represent America at the United Nations.

In the year 2000, McGovern stood together at the White House with President Bill Clinton to announce a $300 million initiative to fund the Global Food for Education. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom that year.

In 2002, together with former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole he launched a program to provide food and education for poor children in the U.S. and around the world.

In 2008, he was awarded the World Food Prize.

Active right up to the end, at age 88, George McGovern celebrated his birthday in 2010 by going skydiving.