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“The good die first.” – from the poem, “The Excursion,” by William Wordsworth, English poet

“Guess who’s going to be in town today,” I said to my wife at breakfast.

More of a rhetorical question than anything, since the possibilities were endless.

It was April 19, 1993, a Monday, and the beginning of another work week — but the last day of George Mickelson’s life.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t follow through on my second comment at breakfast that morning.

“I should call the governor’s office and get his schedule. Maybe I could say hello.”

Instead, I drove into work that morning at the Cincinnati Post and in the crush of newsroom activity, didn’t think about Mickelson or his purpose in coming to this southern Ohio city.

Not until, that is, the “news bulletin” flashed across my computer screen. It was a terse sentence, or maybe two, announcing that the governor of South Dakota and seven others had been killed in an airplane crash.  They had been in Cincinnati lobbying the owners of Chiquita Brands, which also controlled John Morrell and Co. Until the very end, Mickelson was working for his state, trying to protect its interests.

A deep sense of sadness swept over me. Mickelson’s death didn’t seem possible, and like most South Dakotans, I felt an inexpressible loss.

I was fortunate to have been a newspaper reporter and editor in Brookings in the 1970s when Mickelson was starting his political career as states attorney. I watched him prosecute cases and occasionally shared a ride with him to Pierre during the Legislature. It was a great opportunity to talk politics, pending bills, and statehouse personalities. Looking back, I didn’t fully appreciate that special time. A few years younger than Mickelson, we both probably thought we’d be around forever.

A decade later, after he had served as Speaker of the House and I had been assigned to the Yankton Press & Dakotan as editor and publisher, I received a phone call. It was Mickelson. He had decided to run for governor and wondered if he could stop by the office.

I don’t recall all we talked about that day, though his idea to ask Walter Dale Miller to be his running mate stands out. The West River vote, then as now, was essential, he said.

Today, Mickelson is remembered for many accomplishments, including his work to reconcile whites and Indians and the founding of the S.D. Community Foundation.

Despite all that he did, many recall him for how he died: Serving the state he loved.

April 18, 2018