By David Bailey
(Reuters) - Family, friends and fellow politicians on Thursday prepared for a prayer service to mourn former U.S. Democratic Senator George McGovern, a passionate opponent of the Vietnam war who was defeated by Richard Nixon in the 1972 U.S. presidential race.
Vice President Joe Biden was among those scheduled to attend a prayer service at 6:30 p.m. Central Time in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. McGovern, a liberal icon, died in the city on Sunday.
McGovern, who was 90 when he died, was a mentor to many Democrats. His 1972 campaign workers included former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The soft-spoken son of a Methodist minister, McGovern was a fierce advocate in the fight against world hunger who continued to give speeches and write until shortly before his death. He served in the Senate for South Dakota from 1963 to 1981.
McGovern's funeral was set for 1 p.m. Central Time on Friday at the Mary Sommervold Hall in the Washington Pavilion of Arts & Science in Sioux Falls.
The senator had "an uncommon sort of patriotism that was expressed with great integrity and eloquence and the courage of his convictions," said Thomas Knock, a professor at Southern Methodist University who is writing a biography of McGovern.
"I think he lived a great life and that is a great legacy to leave behind - a life's work driven by an affinity for our country's best historic ideals," Knock said.
McGovern suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in U.S. history in the 1972 election, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, against a well-oiled Republican political machine headed by Nixon.
Later, as Nixon's presidency unraveled in the Watergate scandal, bumper stickers saying, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," and buttons saying "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern," appeared.
McGovern's legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to include the fight against world hunger, AIDS and other social issues.
McGovern earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as a B-24 bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions over Europe in World War Two. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956, and again in 1958.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Paul Thomasch and David Storey)