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date: 07 March 2021

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, Jr.free

(17 August 1914–17 August 1988)
  • Shelly L. Lemons

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, Jr. (17 August 1914–17 August 1988), politician and businessman, was born at the family’s summer estate on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the navy, and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Continuing the family’s educational tradition, “Frank” Roosevelt, as his friends called him, graduated from the Groton School in Massachusetts in 1933. He completed his formal education at Harvard University in 1937. In 1940 he earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

The so-called glamour boy of the family, Roosevelt bore a strong resemblance to his father in face and in voice. Perhaps in part because of such similarities, he was considered to be the most likely to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he never realized these expectations, in part because, as he said in a 1949 New York Times interview, “We are a very close but also a very independent family.” Each child developed his or her own views through discussion and debate, at times differing with the opinions expressed by the father. Roosevelt’s marriage to Ethel du Pont in 1937 was considered by many the social event of the season. They had two children before divorcing in 1949. That year Roosevelt married Suzanne Perrin; they had two children.

Roosevelt practiced law only briefly in 1940 before being called to military service in March 1941 as a member of the Navy Reserves. By the time of his discharge in October 1945, he had risen from ensign to lieutenant commander and had received the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Navy Cross, and the Legion of Merit along with numerous awards for meritorious service. Following his military service, he returned to the practice of law, joining the New York firm of Poletti, Diamond, Rabin, Freiden, and MacKay.

Roosevelt’s wartime experiences in the navy led to his involvement with the American Veterans’ Committee (AVC), a liberal organization of World War II veterans. Through his leadership role within the AVC, Roosevelt launched his career as a public figure. In 1947 he served as vice chairman of President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights and was appointed to various committees by the mayor of New York City. After the death of Democratic representative Sol Bloom in 1949, Roosevelt was selected by the Liberal party to fill the vacant congressional seat for the Twentieth District of New York. He was reelected as the Democratic candidate and served in the House from 17 May 1949 until 3 January 1955. In addition, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1952 and again in 1956.

In 1954 Roosevelt made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor and was instead nominated for New York State attorney general. He lost the race and returned to his law practice. Despite the firm’s original reluctance to hire the flashy young Roosevelt, the partners of Poletti, Diamond, Rabin, Freiden, and MacKay soon came to appreciate his legal mind and distinctive style for dealing with his clients. By 1958 Roosevelt had traded his legal practice for the automobile business. His distributorship, the Roosevelt Automobile Company, was considered the principal importer of Fiat and Jaguar automobiles for the United States.

Despite his failure to move from Congress to a governorship then on to the White House as his father had done, Roosevelt remained active in politics. In 1960 he assisted in the presidential campaign of Senator John F. Kennedy, using his name and likeness to his father to help Kennedy win key states, including West Virginia, in the Democratic primaries.

In return for Roosevelt’s service during the campaign, President Kennedy appointed him under secretary of commerce in 1963. The appointment proved controversial because many questioned Roosevelt’s ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s appointment was confirmed. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him the first chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission. He left that position in 1966 for a second attempt at the governorship of New York as a Liberal party candidate, but again he was defeated.

The unsuccessful race for governor in 1966 ended Roosevelt’s political career. He left Washington for Millbrook, New York, where he was involved in farming and various business endeavors. In 1970 he and his second wife divorced. That year he married Felicia Schiff Warburg Sarnoff. They had no children and divorced in 1976. In 1977 he married Patricia Oakes, with whom he had one son. After their marriage ended, Roosevelt wed Linda Stevenson Weicker in 1984. Their childless marriage ended with Roosevelt’s death, in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Bibliography

Roosevelt is featured in numerous articles in the New York Times, 1937–1988, including 24 Apr. 1949, 21 Feb. 1963, and 11 Apr. 1965. Information regarding his aid to President Kennedy’s campaign as well as his personal relationship with the president is in James N. Giglio, The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1991). Obituaries for Roosevelt are in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, all 18 Aug. 1988.