Gov. Al Quie: An appreciation
Al Quie was governor of Minnesota from 1979 to 1983. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Editor’s note: Funeral service for Gov. Al Quie will be at Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., Minneapolis, Saturday, September 9, at 1:00 pm, preceded by a visitation at the church at 11:00. Here’s an appreciation.
A Jewish philosopher now lost to the ages wrote: “The meaning of life is that it ends.”
Expressed positively: What matters the most is how we fill our days.
For the late Minnesota Gov. Al Quie, all he believed, contributed to, led and mentored was in pursuit of goodness, decency, love and opportunity for all.
Meeting the governor, a first impression was the powerful grip of his handshake. Though if you were privileged to spend time with him, you came to know gentleness and subtlety accompanied his strength.
His hands reflected his life and legacy: Working the family’s century farm in southern Minnesota; writing and typing his term papers at St. Olaf; flying piston engine airplanes and later jets and executing takeoffs and landings on aircraft carriers as a naval aviator; sharing a drive back from Washington D.C. with a Republican or Democratic colleague with his hand on the wheel of the station wagon and the direction of the country forging collegiality and consensus; riding and training horses, reins in hands, well into his 80s and 90s; and in his last weeks, holding a book that he read to his great grandchildren. His hands never lost their dexterity.
And the governor was always guided by his family history. His Norwegian immigrant grandfather Halvor Quie volunteered for the First Minnesota Regiment. It was the first Union regiment offered to President Abraham Lincoln. It served with heroic and historic honor at Bull Run, Antietam and Gettysburg (where it may have very well have saved the Union).
Antietam is where the desperate bravery of the First Minnesota — amid the ghastly September 1862 bloodletting in the Maryland countryside — met the federal government’s commitment to abolition at the bayonet end of the Enfield Rifled Musket. For it was the Union victory at Antietam and Robert E. Lee’s retreat from the battlefield which ultimately provided Lincoln with the confidence to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Halvor Quie was wounded at Antietam — the words of the historian of the First Minnesota, Richard Moe — as part of the “Minnesotans determined to do their part in meeting the greatest crisis their young country had seen.”
Mustered out due to his battlefield injuries, he returned to Minnesota. He became a schoolteacher. I had the great privilege of hearing the pride of Gov. Quie in telling the story of grandfather Halvor. A prized family artifact is the first edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which belonged to Halvor.
One hundred and fifty years later Gov. Quie was a member of the Minnesota committee that commemorated the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation. On a cold late December day in 2013 — in the presence of Govs. Mark Dayton and Quie, as well as Josie Johnson, Roxanne Givens, and many civil rights leaders — the committee convened a program in the historic Governor’s Reception Room to honor the Sesquicentennial. The late Lou Bellamy reminded the gathering of the heroics and sacrifices of African American Union soldiers in effectuating auto-emancipation. Quie articulated his powerful vision of American equality and opportunity derived from his lifetime of dedication to civil rights. He also remembered the critical role of people of faith in advancing civil rights, noting all of humanity is created in God’s image.
Gov. Quie’s family lived the history of the human cost of freedom: The 642,000 Union casualties of the Civil War — including 40,000 African American soldiers who lost their lives. Among the dead: 2,500 Minnesota soldiers who never returned. The passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were not sufficient to provide African Americans with complete legal equality. After all, it took until April 2022 for the passage of the federal Emmett Till Antilynching Act.
Quie in the Minnesota Legislature and then in the Congress joined the effort to address this grave American historical wrong. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referenced 60 years ago about the Emancipation Proclamation: “The momentous decree is a bright beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But 100 years later the Negro is still not free.”
Mitch Pearlstein, in his biography of Quie —“Riding into the Sunrise” — details the governor’s support for civil rights in the Minnesota Legislature and the Congress. As a state senator in the 1950s, he defied most of his caucus and voted in favor of a state Fair Employment Practices Commission. He explained: “It was the right thing to do.”
In the U.S. House, Rep. Al Quie implored the Republican caucus to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act — which Quie described as “great benchmarks in our nation.” He worked with U.S. Reps. Charles Goodall and Robert Griffith to secure Republican support in the Rules Committee for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He spoke directly from his heart to the Republican caucus: “If you refuse to vote for this legislation, you’re anti-American…and you’re not a Christian.” House Republicans voted 138-34 in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — including the entire Minnesota Republican delegation.
When it came time to celebrate Quie’s 90th birthday, the watchwords were “a life of faith, service and civility.” Much of Minnesota’s bipartisan political leadership honored his decades of leadership as an elected state and national legislator; as an early advocate for the needs of young children with learning differences; as a champion for Minnesotans for Impartial Courts, who signed the legislation creating the merit selection process for Minnesota’s judges; as a farmer, father and husband of the remarkably artistic, Gretchen; as an interlocutor with President Anwar Sadat in a remarkable conversation in Cairo in which the Egyptian president expressed a strong desire to visit Israel and address the Knesset; as a steward of redemption and new possibilities in prison ministry.
Around this and much more Gov. Al Quie wrapped his powerful hands.
A highlight of the 90th birthday party was the distribution of the Declaration of Independence emphasizing Quie’s belief in “unalienable rights” and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The path to realizing these ideals is plowed through Gov. Quie’s “Principles for Relationship and Unity” as stated in the printed birthday program:
Listen with respect to the other’s point of view, you might learn something.
Think in order to find the truth and the way, which is essential.
Love, which brings about healing and unity.
In our country which may be facing its deepest and starkest divisions since 1861, these lessons are essential and eternal.
At the 90th birthday celebration, Pastor Joel Quie compared his father to a “mighty oak.”
Indeed, he was, in Hebrew, an Etz Chaim — “a tree of life” for all of Minnesota.
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