A hair-raising tale about the late Walter Mondale

Joan and Walter Mondale with Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. Photo (cc) Boston City Archives.

My favorite story about Walter Mondale (and how many people can say they have a favorite story about Walter Mondale?) has to do with something he supposedly said when a staffer from Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign complained to him about his haircut.

Those of us who’ve reached a certain age may remember that one of Carter’s claims to fame was that he had really, really good hair. And apparently it just wouldn’t do that the Democratic nominee’s newly chosen running mate was, to put it mildly, tonsorially challenged. Mondale’s alleged retort: “The people of Minnesota like shitty haircuts.”

Mondale, often described as the first vice president who actually mattered, died on Monday at the age of 93. I recommend Steven R. Weisman’s masterful obituary in The New York Times.

Now, did my Mondale anecdote play out exactly as I’ve described it? It’s hard to say. But I found something very close in a 1992 book by Steven M. Gillon titled “The Democrats’ Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy.” Apparently once Mondale became vice president, he took to having his hair cut by a stylist in his office, a move that was seen by some as a sign that Fritz was leaving his humble roots behind. Gillon writes:

While in the Senate, Mondale had his hair cut by a local Washington barber. “The people in Minnesota like shitty haircuts,” he told friends. Now, a hair stylist came directly to the Vice President’s office. “He thinks he doesn’t have time” to go to a barber, a friend remarked skeptically.

Mondale was one of the finest people ever to win a presidential nomination — a model of personal rectitude and dedication to public service. I would say that we won’t see his likes again except that I think we have a pretty good example of that in the White House right now.

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2 thoughts on “A hair-raising tale about the late Walter Mondale

  1. My own Mondale story is personal. I interviewed Mondale when he was running for president. My recollection is that I sat across from him in a booth in Portsmouth, NH. (I did not notice his haircut but I thought he looked kind of unkempt.) I had been reporting for a couple of years by then but I learned a life lesson from Mondale. No matter how many ways I asked a question, I never got a straight answer. I remember that interview as being the hardest of my career. I walked away from that diner frustrated. But I learned the meaning of talking points and deflection big time that day.

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