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OPINION: McGovern principled but not too stubborn to compromise

It was the end of a long, warmer-than-average March day in the Florida sun, and the cameras and reporters had been gone for hours, though we remained with Sen. George McGovern as he wanted to talk individually with the hundreds of migrant farm workers in the squalid labor camps of Immokalee, shunned by their communities, living in rickety shacks with basic services that amounted to spigots about 2 feet off the ground that passed for a shower and faucet.

I learned that day in 1969, and admired and respected in the years after, that the senator from South Dakota did not need a pollster to tell him how much he should love his nation or a focus group to suggest how he should demonstrate his commitment for the well-being of all Americans, no matter their race or their success in life.

George McGovern was a principled public servant, but not too stubborn to recognize progress through compromise. Up until his last days, he led a valiant fight against poverty and hunger, a fight that for 45 years resulted in feeding generations and hundreds of millions of children and families here in America and around the world.

George afforded me the opportunity to witness history while I worked alongside him as we traveled the country in the early days of the now dismantled Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. We went to the South Bronx, East St. Louis, Chicago and many other places in his effort to bring national attention to the plight of hungry Americans in the midst of a wealthy nation. At every stop, every meeting with reporters, every committee hearing as chairman, or just meeting with those of us on his staff, George would say, "A country that is powerful enough to rocket men to the moon should be able to feed its own hungry people."

His work as chairman and later as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture reflected his deep belief in the basic goodness of the American people and his own unwavering commitment to justice. He was always kind and sensitive to the people he met, never embarrassing them or reducing their dignity while bringing their story to the nation and the world.

George's greatest quality was his innate sense of kindness. He loved his country and its people and his service and its impact is irreplaceable.

It was my privilege, and I will be forever grateful, to have George McGovern as my mentor and later to call him my friend.

Gerald S.J. Cassidy is chairman and CEO of Cassidy & Associates, a position from which The Washington Post has reported he "helped invent the new Washington" over the past 40 years. Cassidy's first job in Washington was general counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, and today he serves on the National Advisory Council of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service.