McGovern was born in Avon, S.D., on July 19, 1922, the son of a Methodist minister. As a pilot of a B-24 bomber based in Italy during World War II, he flew 35 missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He earned a doctoral degree in history and government at Northwestern University and was professor of history at Dakota Wesleyan University.
In 1956 McGovern was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; in 1960 President Kennedy appointed him first director of the U.S. Food for Peace Program and special assistant to the president.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, he was re-elected in 1968 and 1974. In 1998 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Agencies by President Clinton. He has taught and lectured at more than 1,200 American colleges and universities and numerous European, Asian and Latin American universities. He is the author of eight books.
His daughter Teresa J. McGovern, who had suffered from alcoholism and mental illness, froze to death at 45, acutely intoxicated, in a parking lot snowbank in Madison, Wis.
Eleanor McGovern died in 2007 at age 85. A son, Steven, who had also struggled with alcoholism, died in July at 60.
Mr. McGovern’s survivors include three daughters — Ann, Susan and Mary — 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.