Senator Mike Rounds reflects on love and loss after losing his wife to cancer

It has been almost two months since Jean Rounds, wife of Senator Mike Rounds, passed away at their home in Fort Pierre. Now, Rounds and his family are looking to celebrate Christmas like they have in the past, while still grieving the loss of a wife, mother, and grandma, amongst many other titles.
Jean Rounds, former South Dakota First Lady and wife to Sen. Mike Rounds, passed away Tuesday...
Jean Rounds, former South Dakota First Lady and wife to Sen. Mike Rounds, passed away Tuesday as a result of her battle with cancer.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 8:03 PM CST
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FORT PIERRE, S.D. - Christmas at the Rounds residence is well underway, but it is a little different this year.

“This was the big time of the year for us and our family, and when we would get everyone together,” said Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota). “Jean would do all the pre-planning.”

For the first time in decades, Jean is not there to celebrate her favorite holiday with her family. She passed away on November 2nd at the age of 65, after a three-year battle with cancer.

But Jean’s legacy, and her creations, still cover the couples home along the Missouri River.

“Tell me again, the quilt work Jean did is something you have brought up to me on several occasions, and its pretty immaculate,” I asked Rounds. “Can you tell me a little more about that hobby of Jean’s?”

“The needlework that we have in our home, it is all Jean’s,” Rounds replied. “She did Santa Clauses, nativity scenes, and she did them all perfectly. The needlework is perfect, the stitches are right in line, they are called “counted cross stitches.” There are dozens and dozens, maybe 120 to 150 different works that she has done here.”

Jean’s impact extends beyond the confines of just their home. Jean was instrumental in the construction of the Governor’s Mansion that was built during Rounds time as Governor.

“She was the person that made the final decision in terms of colors, and working through what would work long term for the commercial and public side,” Rounds said about the Governor’s Mansion. “The big kitchens, the colors that were coordinated, the paint on the wall, the styles that were made part of the building to begin with, the cabinetry and so forth... She was actively involved in all of that.”

Physical structures and the planning and decorating of them were not the limit of Jean’s influence. She was a steady hand at the helm of the family, on both the political and personal fronts.

“She kept the home fires burning, she made sure that the family was together, she made sure that whatever the kids needed was provided for, and she had a way of keeping me in line too.”

Jean Rounds observes her husband's swearing in as a U.S. senator in 2015. (photo courtesy...
Jean Rounds observes her husband's swearing in as a U.S. senator in 2015. (photo courtesy office of Senator Mike Rounds) (KOTA)

Mike and Jean married in April 1978, after dating for roughly a year.

From those 43 years of marriage, the foundation was laid for a political dynasty in South Dakota. Rounds would serve ten years in the South Dakota State Legislature, eight years as Governor, and has served in the United States Senate since 2015. He was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in 2020.

Most important of all, four loved kids and ten grandchildren came from the union.

All made possible by a chance interaction.

“How did you meet Jean?” I asked.

“Well actually, she was on a blind date. My roommate had set it up for her, his girlfriend had set it up for Jean. I joked that I rescued her, but I think it was more along the lines of we just got along really well.”

“She was on a blind date with someone else?”

“Yep.”

Now, with family constantly over to help aid in the grieving process, Rounds looks to memorialize while moving forward, both personally and politically.

“Working as Governor was the greatest job in the world, and I had the privilege of doing that for eight years. Now is payback for me, but I think this is really important, because this is where our government is the most dysfunctional, is in Washington D.C... Simply giving up on that, I do not think that is the right thing to do.”

“Do I get asked about it? Yeah, literally on a daily basis.”

“People ask you about what?” I interrupt.

“Would I “come back?” Yeah... my message is always that I have a job, I have a full-time job.”

Wherever the 67-year old Senator from the Pierre area ends up, Jean will never be too far from his heart.

“Is there a certain memory, or personality trait, thing about Jean that pops in your head when you miss her?” I ask.

“Oh... It is her eyes... her eyes.” Rounds replies.

“Why?”

“They just understood... There was something there that was incredibly sincere. I have thought about this a lot... I think that is what brought me to her in the first place.”

To watch the full interview with Senator Mike Rounds, click here.

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