Congressman Rick Nolan

Representing the 8th District of Minnesota
Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Flickr icon
YouTube icon
RSS icon

Mesabi Daily News: Politics on home for Nolan, the father

Nov 29, 2017
In The News

Eighth District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan’s daughter Katherine is in a daily life-and-death struggle with a lung cancer for which there is currently no cure.

But the congressman is still thankful this Thanksgiving weekend because Katherine is not only alive, but also handling well the latest regimen of “wonder” drugs trying to fend off the nasty foe that is adenocarcinoma stage 4 lung cancer.


Katherine, in her early-40s with four children elementary school to college age, has the Irish fight and stubbornness of her old man, traits oh so needed in this battle for more adventures, more loving moments with family, more change of seasons, more life.

“I always remind her what Rick says, ‘We win the tough races,’” said Nolan’s longtime friend and Washington aide Steve Johnson in a recent telephone interview, referring to a history of razor-thin election victories.

“The new wonder drug …. which had been tried previously and worked for a while but then couldn’t be tolerated …. is doing well right now.”

That small sigh you hear is a collective one of hope from the Nolan family. But, of course, the vigilant health fight goes on day after day for Katherine and loved ones.


I first met and interviewed Rick Nolan in the late-1970s when he was serving as 6th District congressman from 1975 to 1981 and I was a political reporter for The Sentinel newspaper in Fairmont, Minn. Fairmont was in the Republican-friendly 6th District but butted up against the 2nd District.

He was an energetic DFL political boy wonder at the time, first elected to Congress at age 31 in 1974 after narrowly losing to incumbent John Zwach in 1972 in an area that was a swing district.

Nolan has always been a “good” interview for a reporter. Never one to dodge questions or speak in cliches, Nolan has a quick wit that he employs easily. There has never been anything forced by the congressman.

My recollection is that the interview about 40 years ago dealt with agriculture and roads — prime topics always in southwestern Minnesota.

What a difference 40 years can make. When we talk politics now it’s mining, mining, more mining and a dose of health care. On a personal level, it’s now about grown children and the grandkids.

But in a March 2015 interview, issues were put on the back burner. Rick Nolan was much more a father than a congressman that afternoon. And he was a hurting Dad.

The Nolan family had released information on Katherine’s health condition earlier that year. It was our first chance to talk since he had gone public with his daughter’s situation.

Tears came easily to both of us as he voiced his love of Katherine, and I thought back to my daughter Nicole’s health difficulties.


Fathers aren’t supposed to be unable to answer a question of “Why, why me, Dad?” That’s what Nicole had asked me at age 6 as the effects of a medulloblastoma brain tumor ravaged her body.

Nolan said Katherine’s lung cancer defied logic. A non-smoker, her lifestyle has always been healthy.

He simply shrugged his shoulders, wiped away a tear and took a deep, difficult breath. His little girl was dying.


But Johnson said on this recent day that Katherine’s spirits remain high, and her father still carries his ever-present optimism with a good outlook for the future. After all, medical cures are found each and every year.

And, together, they are a most formidable team in the fight for her life.