Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Recently there has been a new special on HBO about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his stay in Warm Springs, Georgia. You might remember that after he got polio he went to Warm Springs, Georgia, and, because of the healing waters there, tried to learn to walk again.

The thesis of the special is that those “tough days” of struggle at Warm Springs, Georgia, gave him the stamina, the vision, and the perseverance to eventually become a four-term president. The qualities that endured him to a nation were developed at Warm Springs.

Growing up in Georgia, Warm Springs was a place we on occasion visited. It was a quiet sleepy town, a place you could eat a good breakfast nearby, and one could take a quick trip to "The Little White House," the small cottage where FDR stayed when he came there.

It was not a busy place in those days, just a quite unassuming town that happened to be in south Georgia with a radio station with the call letters WFDR after Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the average visit to the Little White House one had few visitors and one could go through it and spend as much time as one wished because there was rarely anyone else around.


In the spring of 1990, 10 years after the death of my father, the one who often took us on these trips, I took my Mother, wife, and daughter on a small trip through south Georgia. It just so happened that we ended up near Warm Springs and decided my 13 year-old daughter might enjoy seeing The Little White House and the hand-driven car FDR used and even the wheel chair he used while there.

When we got to the home, we were surprised. There was a larger crowd than usual at the Little White House, a couple of big buses, lots of people walking around, and even some television cameras.

When we asked what was going on, someone said, "Don’t you know? Today is April 12 and 45 years ago today Franklin Roosevelt died here. There is to be a special memorial service in his memory today. Why don’t you stay and take part?"

So, we stayed. There were many dignitaries at this event. Former governors of the state of Georgia, Generals during Roosevelt’s presidential days, Celestine Sibley the Atlanta Journalist Columnist, the United States Army Band, and common folk like ourselves who just happened to be there by accident (or was it accidental?).

Anyway, it was cold. I put my jacket on and we sat the third row from the front. There were empty seats around us, but it was one of the most meaningful things I had ever been a part of in my life.

After the memorial service was over, I interviewed a former General who was a friend of FDR’s and who had been with him during some of the great events of World War 2. Also I interviewed an African-American who told me he was a young boy in those early days at Warm Springs and how well FDR treated all of his family. "Yes, we received a special invitation to be here today," he said. ("He must have been a young boy when FDR first came," I thought.)

Somewhere in my vast collection of videos is that tape. I hope someday to find it again.


When Roosevelt died my grandfather, who worked for the Southern Railway, was asked to make sure the railroad track between Macon and Atlanta was in tip top shape. The train carrying FDR came that route. When it passed Ellenwood, Georgia, my Mom carried me on her shoulders and we stood in reverence as the train passed.

A few years later, my Dad’s sister, Martha got polio. She went and stayed at Warm Springs, Georgia, for a period of time. One thing I always remember was after her stay whenever it came time for her to get out of a car, she would never let anyone help her. It was quite an ordeal. She would have her braces on as she maneuver to thecar door very awkwardly with her crutches. I always was afraid that she would
fall. Maybe sometimes she did but I never saw it happen.

After the closing scene of Warm Springs I found myself unable to talk for a while. Tears filled my eyes and for the first time I realized, "if it hadn’t been for Franklin Delano Roosevelt my Aunt Martha may never have walked again."


"How many times have our lives been influenced by others yet we have not realized it?"

What does that say about our influence?


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