Lessons learned from FDR

FDR-biography-by-Jean-Edward-SmithI just finished what would have to be one of my best reads for some time – a biography of America’s 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The idea came to me after watching the movie The Butler where almost an entire century of Presidents were portrayed during a number of key historical events. My wife and I went out for a bite afterwards and we were sitting discussing it.

“Roosevelt was one of America’s most famous Presidents,” she told me. “He served 3 terms – more than any other President. During the depression he put thousands of people to work, building schools and hospitals and a lot of the freeways that exist today.”
“Is that so?” I answered.
“Yes,” she continued, “And he led the nation through a very turbulent time in WWII.  And he did all this while suffering with polio.”

‘Now that’s what I call leadership,’ I thought to myself. ‘I need to find out more about this guy.’  So I started searching for a decent biography and came across this one by Jean Edward Smith. I read it during my summer break.  I could hardly put it down. FDR really was a great leader.  I also believe, after reading this book, that his leadership was God-ordained.  Now as a Christian, I believe that all leaders are God-ordained, even the bad ones.  The bible clearly teaches this (for example Cyrus in Isaiah 45 and Pilate in John 19).  But I sensed in FDR’s case, God put him there for a special purpose.  He was the man for the hour.  Along with Winston Churchill, these two leaders helped fortify two great nations (and their Allies) against what really was an unstoppable enemy.  Though it was a long time before the US entered the war, FDR played a big part in assisting Britain through many difficult years.

What was heart-breaking however, was to read about his family.  Though a great leader for the nation, he was a poor husband and father. He had an affair before his kids even left school and remained estranged from his wife for the greater part of his life. Later, the chickens came home to roost. This footnote on page 234 broke my heart:

“The Roosevelt children were unlucky in marriage.  Anna was married 3 times, James 4, Elliott 5, Franklin Jr., 5, and John twice.  Among them they had 27 children.  Samuel Rosenman, who lived in the executive mansion and had an opportunity to observe firsthand, attributed the children’s lack of marital success to an inadequate family life.  FDR was pursuing his career, Eleanor had separate interests, and the children were left high and dry”

Not a footnote I would care to have in my biography.

However, putting that aside; FDR was a courageous, fearless and determined leader who brought a divided nation through very turbulent and uncertain times.

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