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Worth 10,000 Words


As a sort of postscript to last week's ceremonies on the 50th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, consider this snapshot. Versions of it flanked President Clinton when he spoke at Warm Springs, Georgia. It is possibly the most reproduced portrait of FDR. There is a reason for that. It conveys at a glance the essential FDR.

The picture was taken near the Little White House in Warm Springs on April 4, 1939. FDR was sitting in a convertible especially fitted with hand controls so that he could drive. He was a polio victim and could not move his legs enough to shift gears, step on the brakes or step on the gas. On vacations there he liked to drive around the countryside, to talk to ordinary folks, to compensate for his disability and to enhance his image as a dynamo on the go.

This photo captures all that, plus FDR's eternal optimism (look at that smile), jaunty wit (look at that cigarette holder), self-confidence and leadership quality (look at that jutting jaw) and nonchalance and common touch (look at that hat!).

The nearest any writer came to summing up FDR's personality in a paragraph was this, by Walter Trohan, the White House correspondent of the Chicago Tribune during FDR's presidency: "Although he could not walk, he had the face of a marching man. His chin was tilted high in confidence, his eyes were bright with purpose, and his spirits were gay."

That's good, but not as good as this picture, which is one of those rare ones that is really worth 10,000 words. I wish I could give credit to the photographer, but neither the Associated Press, which owns the rights to the picture, nor the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library knows.

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