Inspiration — and leadership

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2014

Last week, millions of American television viewers became enthralled with filmmaker Ken Burns’ latest triumph, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”
Over seven nights and 14 hours, those whose watched this beautifully told and edited program came to understand why studying the Roosevelts provides a framework for understanding American history in the first half of the 20th century.
In fact, the legacy of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt still reaches into our daily existence. They seemed bigger than life. Rough-riding, vibrant Teddy Roosevelt embodied the progressive American spirit as it pushed into the new century.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected an unprecedented four times. He embraced the radio fireside chat, introduced concepts such as Social Security and minimum wages and led the country through two of the biggest challenges to its very survival: the Great Depression and World War II.
As for Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe no person accomplished as much in preparing the country for the important fights to come in women’s rights, civil rights and human rights and showing how a country and its citizens must help the impoverished and the afflicted.
Compared to today’s public figures, these three Roosevelts were giants, mainly because they inspired and led.
If you take a trip back to April 12, 1945, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Ga., and word arrived in Salisbury of his passing, you understand what impact one man or woman can have on a country.
“It was as if each one had lost a personal friend,” a Post reporter said of Salisburians’ reactions. “As if, all at once, the calmly ordered life of every day had gone askew — as indeed it had.”
Walter H. Woodson Jr., chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party,, said, “This nation and the world have lost one of the great, if not the greatest, leaders of all times.”
Lee Casper, a visually impaired merchant at the courthouse, said Roosevelt’s death was a blow to all classes of people, “but more so to the afflicted.”
“His fine example of struggling to overcome physical handicaps gave me, and hundreds like me in the United States, the courage to carry on and make a place for ourselves in this busy world.”
When FDR’s funeral train stopped in Salisbury on its way from Warm Springs to Washington, then on to Hyde Park, N.Y., some 8,000 people gathered by the tracks as it arrived at the station at 11:17 p.m.
Everybody strained for a look at one car in particular, the brightly lit Pullman holding FDR’s casket. Before the train headed north into the darkness with a fresh crew, flowers from local Legionnaires and the Spencer Lions Club were presented and placed near the casket.
A Post editorial at FDR’s death waxed poetic: “When Kipling wrote, ‘Can walk with kings nor lose the common touch,’ he wrote, as poets do, of an imaginary being. Franklin Roosevelt was the incarnation of that being.”
Will the country ever see the Roosevelts’ brand of leadership again?