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Walt Whitman’s threnody on the death of Abraham Lincoln begins, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,/And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,/I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”
Every April since 1945, I have thought about Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who loomed so greatly on the world scene and the national stage. He was the dominant presence in my early life. He died April 14, 1945.
As I think about FDR, I remember that I have met and “met” some presidents besides him.
Elaine and I shook hands with Harry Truman in the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., during our cross-country automobile trip many years ago.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of Columbia University when I received my master’s degree. His signature is on the diploma. I believe he was at the commencement, but I did not shake his hand then or at any other time.
Elaine and I met John F. Kennedy at a luncheon in the Garden City Hotel when he was still a senator but on his way to the 1960 campaign. It was a business event to which friends had invited us. I think I shook the senator’s hand.
I was my corporation’s representative at a Wall Street meeting at which George H.W. Bush spoke about his Thousand Points of Light program, which the business people present did not embrace with any enthusiasm at all.
But while I never shook his hand or spoke with him, my remembrance of a special day with FDR has never left me.
I was a copy boy at The New York Times on Election Night 1944 and remember stumbling home from the subway in Elmhurst early the Wednesday morning after FDR was re-elected. I had put in a full day and night. I was a clerk on the city desk of the Times the day Roosevelt died.
But on a rainy day in October 1944, I stood on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst in front of a King Kullen — long since gone — when FDR’s motorcade passed. He was in an open car and he kept waving to the crowds who lined both sides of the boulevard. It was a moment I have never forgotten.
The Times by no means was a supporter of FDR most of the time, but in an editorial on his death, the editorial board wrote this: “Men will thank God on their knees, a hundred years from now, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House, in a position to give leadership to the thought of the American people and direction to the activities of their Government, in that dark hour when a powerful and ruthless barbarian threatened to overrun the civilization of the Western World and to destroy the work of centuries of progress.”
That editorial is worth reading any time for its insights and intelligence. It is deeply moving.
It is all long ago, but, I believe for many, like Whitman’s remembrance of Lincoln, April is still a time for looking back and remembering a great and good man.
Next: a legacy to remember
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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