South Dakotans were very sad to learn that Jean Rounds, former First Lady and wife of U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, passed away today. Mrs. Rounds, 65, had been battling cancer for the past couple of years, and she and Mike had shared regular updates with South Dakotans about the highs and lows of that battle.
Mike Rounds and Jean Vedvei met when the two were students at South Dakota State University in the early 1970s. Jean was a native of Lake Preston and earned her degree at SDSU in office management. They married in 1978 and returned to Mike’s hometown of Pierre, where Jean’s twenty-seven year career in state government included stints in the State Planning Bureau and the Department of Transportation.
Jean never sought the limelight and she has often stayed in the background during Mike’s political career. Despite that, Jean deserves credit for what would become the defining decision of Mike Rounds’ political career: Mike’s pledge, during his longshot gubernatorial campaign in 2002, to “stay positive” and to “never run a negative ad, or a negative campaign.” Mike’s nice-guy, positive image paid off in that Republican primary when frontrunners Mark Barnett and Steve Kirby destroyed each other in a barrage of negative attacks, leading primary voters to turn to Mike Rounds: the positive, experienced underdog.
As First Lady, Jean was gracious and hospitable, and she represented South Dakota well. She was not a regular presence at the State Capitol or on the campaign trail, preferring to focus on the Rounds home and their children and grandchildren. That is not to say that she didn’t use the role to promote important causes – she launched a “Wear Red for Women” campaign for heart health and the “Reach out and Read” campaign for children’s literacy. Jean also played a major role in the planning and design of the new Governor’s Residence, a legacy that will benefit our state for decades to come. And there was never any question that, although she usually wasn’t out front, Mike relied on Jean’s insight and perceptiveness as he did his work for our state, just as he had in the 2002 campaign.
Jean Rounds has been lost, much to soon. It’s a loss that will be felt most acutely, of course, by Mike, their children Chris, Brian, Carrie, and John, and their grandchildren and extended families. For South Dakota, we have lost a “First Lady” in the truest sense – a lady who represented our state well, and of whom we could all be proud.
Update: An obituary for Jean Rounds has been posted. Services for Jean will include a visitation on Friday, November 5 from 5-7 pm, a prayer service Friday at 6 pm, and a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 am on Saturday, November 6, all at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Pierre.