ST. PAUL — In normal times, even a top official with the state of Minnesota might take a few days off after a family member dies.
These are not normal times.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced on Instagram on Monday that her brother, Ron Golden, who had been fighting cancer, passed away on Saturday, March 21, in Tennessee after developing COVID-19. In the midst of her grief, Flanagan kept working, including sharing a video message to Facebook about how evictions across the state had been suspended.
“Your heart is breaking and you’re here reassuring the rest of us,” one person commented. “Thank you for caring, we care about you, too. So sorry for the losses you and your family are dealing with.”
“Grace, peace, and the comfort of the spirit to you in these impossible days of grief.”
“I am so sorry to hear of your loss. The best thing I can do to honor your brother is to stay home. I am.”
The lieutenant governor briefly spoke to the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday to talk about carrying on with her duties in the midst of grieving.
“It’s hard,” she said. “But, in some ways, if I can just be really honest, it’s better to be busy. … If I had to just sit and just dwell on things … it’s also just not who my brother is. He was a fixer — he took care of things. And so I think the best way I can respond to his death in this moment is to use the platform that I have to honor his legacy by encouraging people to do what they need to do to be safe.”
She’s doing what she needs to do, keeping calm and carrying on.
“Gotta get back to it,” she says.
In this case, getting back to it meant talking things over with her brother’s widow, Josie Golden.
“After he passed, I said, ‘Are you going to talk about it, about how he died of complications from COVID-19,'” Flanagan said. “And she said, ‘Yes, absolutely. I want to make sure there’s some good that comes out of this for people, that’s what he would want.’ And so that is why I shared the (Instagram) post, that is why I’m talking to you about it, that it’s important people take this seriously.”
Flanagan, 40, and Golden, 56, did not grow up together in Minnesota. “He grew up in Tennessee,” she says. “He was this big Marine; he was this big Ojibwe man with a really amazing Southern accent, which was always kind of delightful.”
Together, the siblings from Minnesota and Tennessee recently grieved the loss of their father, Marvin Maypenny, who passed away in January.
“He cared tremendously about family and connection,” Flanagan says. “As soon as my dad started getting sick, my brother jumped in the car and he drove up north. … My brother was there, every day, right by his side, taking care of everything, all the logistics, checking in with everyone in the family. He said it was his duty and honor as a Marine.”
He could be fun, too.
“We liked to give each other a hard time about politics,” said Flanagan, who is a Democrat. “He was very conservative; I am not.”
The last time Flanagan saw her brother, she says, was at their father’s funeral.
“My husband and daughter and I were planning on going down to visit him,” Flanagan says. “We just ran out of time.”
Golden was recently diagnosed with cancer, and his immune system was compromised.
She says they do not know how Golden got COVID-19 — but they do know how to keep others from getting sick.
“It’s important that folks take this seriously,” she says, urging people to stay home, practice social distancing and wash their hands to help the vulnerable as well as themselves.
As for now, Flanagan says, plans for a memorial service in Tennessee are on hold. Eventually, though, she will get to say goodbye to her brother near where she last saw him.
“He’s a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, like I am,” Flanagan says. “Josie is planning on bringing his ashes up here and scattering them near my dad, where he is buried.”
In addition to honoring her brother by following protocols to keep COVID-19 from spreading, memorials to nonprofit veterans’ groups are also welcome, Flanagan says.
For now, the lieutentant governor is carrying on with her work life as many others are — by working from home, just like the governor is (in his case, he is in self-quarantine after a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19).
“We have daily conference calls, video conferencing, he is functioning as he would normally … he’s feeling no symptoms, it’s just out of an abundance of caution, to follow our own directives,” she says.
“It’s been comforting to have the governor, who is also a veteran, to be able to talk about it,” she said of the loss of her brother, “and to know there’s someone who gets it and understands.”
She also thanks people who have reached out to her since Monday with condolences and support via social media, texts and flowers. “Minnesotans are amazing,” she says.
She’s worried, though.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “my story, in the coming days and weeks, will not be unique.”
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