Eleanor Roosevelt’s enduring presence

English: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Li...

English: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum ID #65732 Eleanor Roosevelt at United Nations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the agonies of a too-long and too-bitter campaign were drawing to a happy — for a winning percentage of us at least — conclusion, another milestone slipped by: the 50th anniversary of the death of Eleanor Roosevelt. The great writer/ speaker/ activist  and long-suffering (though few knew at the time) wife of New Deal President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on November 7, 1962. She and FDR moved into the White House a few months before I was born. When she moved out after his death nearly a dozen years later, she never skipped a beat in her own career of promoting justice for all. I remain a fan.

It’s heartening to find she has new generations of fans, including adventure/travel blogger Lesley Carter, who runs this ER quote across several pages: “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Eleanor’s experiences, which included riding elephants in India and exploring the mysteries of Africa, Asia and beyond, nearly always highlighted her passion for promoting peace and justice at home and abroad. At the time I met her, global peace seemed a far more attainable goal than it does today.

It was the fall of 1953. I had just turned 20, graduated from college, settled happily into an apartment in downtown Richmond, VA with my sister Mimi and college roommate Pat, and landed my first full-time job with a local public relations firm. Mimi was dating a dashing young reporter for radio station WRNL named Roger Mudd; I was dating a dashing young political cartoonist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch named Hugh Haynie. The world was our oyster.

My PR firm had landed the job of arranging for Mrs. Roosevelt’s speech in observance of United Nations Day, an event planned for Richmond’s Mosque Theater and made somewhat controversial by the fact that it would be open to anyone – since she did not speak to segregated audiences. This, among other things Rooseveltian, did not sit well with James Kilpatrick, the arch-conservative segregationist editor of the afternoon newspaper, The Richmond News Leader.

I snagged the plum assignment of meeting Mrs. Roosevelt at the Richmond Airport, which at the time consisted of a Quonset hut beside several runways, out in Henrico County farm country. There were several of us in the delegation; it did  not hurt that my father was then chairman of the Virginia United Nations Association.

In the time it took Mrs. Roosevelt to travel from New York for the one-night visit, Kilpatrick had published a vitriolic editorial, condemning just about everything she stood for beyond motherhood and apple pie. We took a copy of the paper to the airport so she could read it on the way into town, since there would only be a few minutes to spare between her arrival at the hotel and the press conference scheduled just before dinner and the event. I remember being introduced to her, and subsequently being called by name every time she spoke to me, a small but extraordinary gift I think she conferred on everyone she met.

We had seen a draft outline of Mrs. Roosevelt’s speech. It was all about international friendship and cooperation, the importance of education, global health needs – essentially the same issues she would probably be addressing today. How, I wondered, would she possibly get to her significant national/international subjects in light of the unavoidable local hostility? The press conference was barely underway when hands went up all over the room, and questions were shouted, asking for a response to the News Leader editorial.

She smiled broadly at the writers and reporters who packed the room.“I understand,” Mrs. Roosevelt said, “that your new editor is very bright, very talented – and very young.” She paused. “Over the years, I have learned to have great patience with youth.” Then she smiled again and took the next question.

Ah, so. But Mrs. Roosevelt, I suspect, would approve of the youthful President just re-elected to the job her husband held eight decades ago.

Thinking about the Bush think tank

Why am I not encouraged by reports of the official launch of the George W. Bush Institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University? According to Dallas Morning News reporter Lori Stahl,

Former President George W. Bush will make his first scheduled Dallas appearance at SMU today when he and wife Laura unveil plans for the Bush Institute before an audience of 1,500 people at McFarlin Auditorium.

The Institute has been described by foundation officials as a scholarly forum that will conduct research and promote dialogue on four core principles identified by the Bushes.

These core principles, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, include education, global health, human freedom and economic growth. Hmm.

My father Earl Moreland, who grew up to be, among other things, president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA for 28 years, died in 1987 without voting for either of his fellow Texans. He was in the first class ever to enter what would become SMU, and one of my fond memories is of accompanying him to Dallas for his 60th reunion.  I believe it is safe to say he would not be proud to have a Bush think tank on the campus of his alma mater.

For my part, I am just stumbling over those “core principles,” and their connection to our former president. Education? Global health? Embodied by someone who condemned millions throughout Africa and beyond to sickness and death through his ill-advised policies? Economic growth? Hello? Times are surely tough today, ten months into Barack Obama’s presidency, but did he create this mess or inherit it?

Some of my favorite people voted for George W. Bush. All of them are, in my humble opinion, smarter than he is. One of them did graduate work at SMU years ago, but does not support placement of the Institute on campus.

During our trip to Dallas for his reunion (the school opened in 1915, you can do the math) my father remarked that he would come back for his 65th if there were anyone around to reune with. Turned out he never made that return visit. If he were here today I’m not sure he would be making plans for his 100th.

My father had a favorite response to all things he considered outrageous (often applied to his daughters) which sounded like “Poosharisha!” It was from his second language (which I sadly never learned), adopted during a 12-year period in Brazil at the Instituto Porto Alegre. Long after he died I learned it was a Portugese expression that  translates, roughly, “That is beyond anything within the natural order of the universe.”

Somewhere in the ethernet I hear my father contemplating the coming of the George W. Bush think tank, and clearly also hear his voice. Poosharisha.


George W. Bush to unveil Bush Institute programs today at SMU | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Latest News.