George McGovern was an unusual person.

Not because he ran for president. Not because of the size of his loss in 1972. Not because of the policies he proposed.

He was an extraordinary person because, at the highest level of national public life, both friends and opponents could marvel at his honesty, decency and compassion.

During his 1970-72 campaign for the presidency, I served first as his press secretary and then as his executive assistant. I traveled with him as we crossed the country and circled the world. He said that in that period he saw more of me than of any other person, including his wife.

The obituaries since his death this week have told the story of his career and recounted some of his accomplishments. But my remembrance is about the man himself.

By the time I joined him, Sen. McGovern had two great focuses in life ”“ opposition to the war in Vietnam and commitment to the war on hunger.

His opposition to the Vietnam War was deeply rooted. He believed that the war was changing the character of the country and that each year it was pursued moved the United States further away from its idealism and ability to lead the world on the strength of its values.

For him, the war was an American tragedy. When he said, “Come home, America,” it was not a call for isolation but an attempt to bring the country back to its historic values.

His controversial position on the Vietnam War associated him with people considered radicals and made him seem radical to some. Many people came to associate him only with extreme liberalism.

For these people, Vietnam obscured the other, non-ideological cause of his life: The war to end hunger and malnutrition in the U.S. and the world. This was not a hobby or a retirement exercise; it was a deeply held commitment.

He chaired a special committee in the U.S. Senate dedicated specifically to this effort. With little fanfare, this committee became the chief backer of the food stamp and school lunch programs.

He was one of the originators of the World Food Program. When you see on television sacks of food being distributed abroad in the wake of natural disasters or famines, labeled “From the People of the United States of America,” you should know that happens because of him.

With Republican Bob Dole, his former adversary in the U.S. Senate, he launched a school lunch program for poor countries. It has three purposes: To make sure kids have at least one good meal, to get them an education, and, under its terms, to ensure that girls are treated equally.

These humanitarian achievements would dwarf the legislative accomplishments of most senators. In 2008, McGovern and Dole received the World Food Prize. And the equivalent American prize is named after McGovern.

While many politicians see Americans as a crowd composed of interest groups, McGovern saw Americans as individuals. That accounted for his personal interest in each person with whom he came in contact, leaving many with lasting memories of a considerate and caring man.

He was never mean, though he could burn with conviction and develop strong feelings about his opponents. President Richard M. Nixon and his campaign disdained and ignored McGovern. Yet, he later took it upon himself to visit the disgraced ex-president.

Underlying his actions, there may be a single cause. The son of a minister, McGovern embodied a morality that drove him to oppose a war that he felt was undermining the United States, to fight hunger, and to understand and forgive others.

In government, he tried to act on his belief about the difference between right and wrong. Like all human beings, he was imperfect, but he kept trying, almost always showing wit and grit.

There are many stories from my days with him. One day during the campaign, the door of our car opened, and somebody plopped in a gym bag containing $10,000 in cash. That was illegal, but it still took a bit of nerve to toss it back out.

He voted with a tiny handful of senators against accepting a report on obscenity, because it amounted to a call for censorship. Then we promptly flew to Utah, where the report was immensely popular.

When asked about his vote, he came up with a humorous quote without giving any ground, and by the time we left, he was praised for having the grace and courage to stick to his position.

McGovern believed the best and easiest course in politics was to tell the truth.

One of his adversaries observed this week that most losers in presidential races are forgotten. My friend, George McGovern, will be remembered.

— Gordon L. Weil is an author, publisher, consultant, and former official of international organizations and the U.S. and Maine governments.