April 20 (UPI) -- Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale, who served as the 42nd vice president of the United States for four years under President Jimmy Carter and as a U.S. senator from Minnesota, has died at age 93.Mondale died Monday at his home in Minneapolis surrounded by immediate family, relatives said in a statement. They did not specify a cause.
Mondale served as vice president between 1977 and 1981, which his family said was "his greatest honor and privilege." Before that, he served in the Senate between 1964 and 1976 and as Minnesota attorney general for four years. He was U.S. ambassador to Japan for three years in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.
In 1984, Mondale received the Democratic presidential nomination but lost the election in a landslide to incumbent President Ronald Reagan, winning only 13 electoral votes from his home state of Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
Carter mourned his "dear friend" in a statement Monday, calling him the best vice president in U.S. history.
"During our administration, Fritz used his political skill and personal integrity to transform the vice presidency into a dynamic, policy-driving force that had never been seen before and still exists today," he said. "He was an invaluable partner and an able servant of the people of Minnesota, the United States and the world."
President Joe Biden, who called Mondale "a dear friend and mentor," said in a statement that he spoke with the former vice president over the weekend to reflect "on the years of friendship we shared."
Mondale was one of the first people to greet Biden when he arrived in the Senate in 1973, the president said, and he showed the then-junior senator "what was possible."
"He may have been modest and unassuming in manner, but he was unwavering in his pursuit of progress," Biden said. "There have been few senators before, or since, who commanded such universal respect."
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 to prevent racial discrimination in housing, Title IX to provide more opportunities for women and laws to protect the environment were some of Mondale's accomplishments Biden highlighted.
Former President Barack Obama said Monday that Mondale was a champion of progressive causes and changed the role of what it meant to be vice president, as well as and who could be vice president as he selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate, making her the first woman to campaign for the job.
"Michelle and I send prayers to his family," Obama said.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, published a note from Mondale that was sent to his staff after his death, in which he said he was eager to join his wife, Joan Mondale, who died in 2014, and their daughter, Eleanor Mondale, who died in 2011.
"Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!" he said. "Together we have accomplished so much, and I know you will keep up the good fight. Joe in the White House certainly helps. I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!"
Born on Jan. 5, 1928, in Ceylon, Minn., to a Methodist minister and a part-time piano teacher, both Norwegian immigrants, Mondale became active in politics while practicing law in the late 1950s.
He served in the Korean War, graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956 and got in Democratic politics while working under Hubert Humphrey.
At age 32 in 1960, Mondale was appointed attorney general of Minnesota only to be selected a few years later to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Humphrey, who was elected the 38th vice president under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
It was during his 12 years in the Senate that he played in a key role in passing the Fair Housing Act, which his family said was "one of his proudest -- and hardest fought --achievements."
In 1976, he was elected vice president during which he is credited with transforming the role into a full partnership with the president.
Following his election loss to Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1984, Mondale returned to practicing law until in 1993 when Clinton asked him to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, a role he held until 1996, and then as the president's special envoy to Indonesia in 1998.
Vice President Kamala Harris praised Mondale for leading an "extraordinary life of service" for his country, stating late Monday that she spoke with him a few days ago to thank him for doing so.
"I'll miss him dearly, and my heart is with his family," she said.