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Friday, December 16, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Complete, Total Addiction' -- Teresa Mcgovern Fought Alcohol, But She Died With .339 Level In Blood

Chicago Tribune

MILWAUKEE - Teresa McGovern, daughter of 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, had an outgoing personality and a gift for reaching out to people. She also had a disease - alcoholism - against which she had struggled for most of her 45 years.

This week the disease won out. She was found dead of hypothermia in a snowbank Tuesday in Madison, Wis., after becoming disoriented from acute alcohol intoxication. Dane County Coroner Ray Wosepka said her blood-alcohol level was .339 percent.

"She absolutely could not contain it," said her father, who recalled that her struggle began when she was a teen-ager. "It's an incredible saga of courage and tenacity, but as the disease progressed, her ability to handle it decreased."

On Monday she checked out of a Wisconsin alcohol detoxication treatment center where she had been a patient on and off for several years.

Teresa McGovern, who grew to adulthood in the late 1960s era that gave rise to her father's 1972 run for the presidency against Richard Nixon, was among her father's most avid supporters and campaign workers.

She also was active in her father's congressional campaigns. Even as a little girl back in her hometown of Mitchell, S.D., family members recall her passing out leaflets and campaign buttons.

Ultimately, Teresa McGovern's political activism was a product of her love for her father, said her sister Susan Rowan. "She was not active in politics in general," she said.

"Working on her sobriety"

Teresa McGovern earned a degree in psychology from the University of South Dakota in 1977. She also attended the University of Wisconsin in 1977, and again in the mid-1980s.

For a time, she worked in a child-care center, a day-care center for senior citizens and a hospice for terminal patients.

"She tried to give help to as many people as she could in a way that she couldn't help herself," Rowan said.

But in recent years, she concentrated on one thing only.

"She was working on her sobriety. She was wanting to be clean and sober so she could be with her children," said Melody Twiller, assistant director of the Tellurian UCAN Detoxification Center in Madison.

Twiller described Teresa McGovern's condition as "complete and total addiction" to alcohol. Although she would sometimes go for a month or two without a drink, her relapses were frequent, Twiller said.

"The last few months," said her father, "she was just trying to stay alive."

"She didn't plan to die"

Shortly before she died, McGovern had spoken to her counselor and family members of her desire to get her life in order.

"She was going to move into a new apartment, try again to work, and try again to be a mother to her children, whom she loved so much," Susan Rowan said. "She didn't plan to die."

She is survived by two daughters, Marian, 9, and Colleen, 7. She and the girls' father, Ray Frey, separated about eight years ago and divorced in 1990. In addition, she is survived by her mother, Eleanor McGovern; sisters Ann and Mary McGovern of Washington, D.C.; and a brother, Steven McGovern of Washington. Information from The Washington Post and USA TODAY is also included in this report.

Published Correction Date: 12/17/94 - The Name Of Teresa Mcgovern's Sister, Susan Rowen, Was Misspelled In This Story.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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