Geri Joseph lived 100 lives in her 100 years.
The journalist, activist, DFL Party chair, prolific board member, Mondale Policy Forum director and U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands wrote speeches, corralled voters and helped drive the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale at a time when women were "supposed" to stay home.
But Joseph, born Geri Mack, always defied norms.
The Depression-era kid was the first of three raised by a Russian father and homemaker mom in a modest Milton Street apartment in St. Paul.
"At the time my mother grew up there was a lot more cultural pressure that said, 'Women do this. And they don't do that.' My mother hated that!" recalled Geri's son Scott Joseph. "A significant part of her drive came from the desire to achieve and show herself and others she'd accomplish just as much as any man."
Joseph, who died Oct. 16, did just that. She is survived by sons Jon and Scott, siblings Rossy Shaller and Arvy Mack, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
As a cub reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune, her blistering 1948 series exposing abuses in state mental hospitals so surprised then-Gov. Luther Youngdahl he threatened to get her fired. He ultimately approved $18 million to help remedy atrocities she witnessed.
Those memories haunted, kicking off a lifetime of activism even as she married her college sweetheart, commodities trader Burton Joseph, bought a house near Minnehaha Falls in 1953 and raised three children with live-in help.
She worked with the National Institutes of Health and the National Mental Health Association for decades, raising awareness about mental illness and deplorable hospital conditions. After President John F. Kennedy's assassination, her relentless lobbying of Congress on behalf of people in institutions led to millions in federal funding. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Joseph for her groundbreaking work.
Often the lone woman in powerful, smoke-filled rooms, Joseph lived by the motto: "Dress well and work your ass off," her rabbi recalled.
She ran Humphrey's presidential campaign in 1968, served as Democratic convention delegate, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago while Vietnam War protesters rioted outside.
Joseph, a 1946 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota and the subject of articles and magazine covers, described herself as calm and capable, but internalized stress.
She played tennis, read, skied and camped to relax but "had ulcer issues courtesy of the Democratic Party, long hours on the road, not great food, sleeping in hotels day after day. It was hard on her health," Scott said. Also "politics and journalism was all male-dominated. So the 1950s and '60s was a pretty coarse place for women to work. But my mom was always very dignified. She never complained."
She was a contributing Minneapolis Tribune columnist through the 1970s, traveled to China in 1975 with then-Gov. Wendell Anderson, and at Mondale's suggestion, President Jimmy Carter appointed her U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in 1978. She endured kidnapping threats and used bodyguards to dodge protesters enraged that NATO allies pondered deploying nuclear weapons to counter Soviet threats.
She came home in 1981, became a senior fellow running international programs at the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and in 1990 became founding director of its Mondale Policy Forum. She retired in 1995 at age 71.
At 80, Joseph suffered a blow from which she never recovered. Her daughter, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, was fatally shot by a cousin with mental illness whom she tried to help while in the Hennepin County Government Center. "I lost my best friend," Geri told Star Tribune journalist Kay Miller at the time.