Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who resigned as George McGovern’s vice presidential nominee in 1972 after it was revealed he had been hospitalized for depression, died Sunday. He was 77.
The cause of death was a combination of heart, respiratory and other problems, his family said in a statement. Eagleton had suffered from a variety of illnesses and ailments in recent years.
“It’s a real loss to the country,” McGovern said. “He was a scrapper — he didn’t back away from a fight. Yet he was disarming in his dealings with people.”
Eagleton, a Democrat, served in the Senate representing Missouri from December 1968 through January 1987.
Eagleton was McGovern’s vice presidential nominee in 1972, but dropped out after it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and had twice undergone electroshock therapy for depression. McGovern chose Sargent Shriver to replace Eagleton and lost to Richard Nixon in the general election.
In a telephone interview, McGovern said Sunday 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.
Eagleton told The Associated Press in 2003 that he had no regrets.
“Being vice president ain’t all that much,” he said. “My ambition, since my senior year in high school, was to be a senator. Not everybody achieves their ambition. I got to the level that I really had no great right to claim.”
Former Sen. John Danforth, a Republican, served alongside Eagleton for 10 years and was his friend for four decades despite their political differences.
‘A person of high principle’
“Tom Eagleton was an outstanding public servant throughout his career in elective politics and beyond,” Danforth said in a statement. “As a United States senator, he was highly respected on both sides of the aisle. He was a person of high principle and consistent good humor.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called Eagleton an outstanding senator in the tradition of Harry Truman.
“He made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam,” Kennedy said in a statement. “He’ll long be remembered for his outrage over the senseless bombing of Cambodia and for his leadership in the anti-war effort.”
Eagleton was born in St. Louis in 1929, the son of noted civil trial attorney Mark Eagleton, who once ran unsuccessfully for mayor and encouraged his son’s interest in politics. The younger Eagleton was elected circuit attorney at age 26 in 1956, the youngest man ever elected to the position.
He was elected Missouri attorney general in 1960 and lieutenant governor in 1964 before winning election to the U.S. Senate.
Eagleton was considered liberal, but he criticized busing to achieve school desegregation and, as a practicing Roman Catholic, strongly opposed abortion.
He told the AP in 2003 he had not had any symptoms of depression for years and “didn’t think it was all that big a deal.”
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.
Eagleton is survived by his wife, Barbara Ann Smith Eagleton, whom he married in 1956, a son and a daughter.