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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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The President’s Lady (11/15/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Eleanor Roosevelt, the 32nd First Lady of our country, will forever remind me of hot dogs! As I read the eulogy that her friend and political ally Adlai Stevenson read at her memorial service on November 17, 1962, I learned of the faux pas this worldwide humanitarian arranged during a visit to the White House by the king and queen of England. The story goes that Eleanor ordered a menu of hot dogs and hamburgers served picnic style for the occasion. Our kind of gal!

Eleanor Roosevelt’s name is probably not readily recognized by today’s younger generation. After all, this worldly, insightful individual was taken from the earthly limelight to her eternal, heavenly abode forty-seven years ago. Even those who are acquainted with the Eleanor Roosevelt of history books, as a lady dedicated to her country and to the poor and oppressed, how many are aware of the fact that her childhood was miserably unhappy, and her married life to Franklin Delano Roosevelt left a lot to be desired?

Who could forget that distinctly interesting face! Yet, her honored place in U.S. history, along with many other noteworthy figures who shaped the character of our country, dwindles as decades and centuries fade away. She walked in the slums and ghettos of the world with compassion, performing missions of mercy. The anniversary of her death at the age of 78 may have escaped most of us on the 7th of November. Some of what Stevenson relayed in her eulogy revealed personal sadness that this noble lady took in stride.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City in 1884. She was an orphan until the age of 10, when she attended a girls’ school in England. Her mother had been openly disappointed with her daughter’s lack of a pretty face. Her father was banished from the family home due to his heavy drinking.

From her eulogy came the quoted words of a strong-willed, spunky Eleanor: “No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face, all will be attracted to her.”

Further sadness plagued her in her marriage to FDR, who happened to be her distant cousin. They had six children, one lost in infancy. Eleanor discovered her husband’s love affair while he was a New York senator. She remained devoted to him, tending to him when he was stricken with polio, becoming his tireless and trusted partner and an object of universal respect. Through their 12 years in the White House, she transformed the role of First Lady, becoming the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to earn money as a lecturer, and to hold press conferences.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy made way for women’s prominent place in the scheme of things. A funeral is a personal way to honor and to embrace in memory those who we must physically let go of in our lifetimes. One could imagine that there would be no reward more treasured than for a person to hear these expressions of adoration and accomplishment before their death. Others might think much more of you than you could ever realize.

Not long before her death, she wrote, “Within all of us there are two sides. One reaches for the stars, the other descends to the level of beasts.” One sure thing, Eleanor Roosevelt was no hot dog!

What rendered this public servant unique was her compassionate love. She could not feel complacent while others were hungry, and could not find contentment while others were in distress. Inspecting New Deal programs in the South in 1939, she was stunned to find lingering prejudice against blacks and petitioned her husband, who eventually signed an executive order banning discrimination.

She was confident that “men could fashion their own tomorrow if they could only learn that yesterday can be neither relived nor revised.”

Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy rings eternal…along with those who, in a distant millennium, will still be clinging to the farthest stars.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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