The Death of America’s Longest Serving President Who Had Led the Nation Through the Great Depression and World War II

It was April 1945. The end of the war in Europe was in sight as the allied armies pressed their invasion into the German heartland. In Washington, President Roosevelt’s health had noticeably deteriorated. His ashen-grey complexion and physical weakness raised concerns for his health among friends, family and associates.

The president needed a rest, a chance to recuperate and regain his strength. Accordingly, the president once again traveled to the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. With him went an entourage of friends and relatives. FDR had first visited this health spa, noted for its healing mineral waters, twenty-one years earlier in an effort to find relief for his paralyzed lower body. Roosevelt looked forward to two weeks of relaxation.

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The first few days in Georgia were tough. FDR was obviously ill and seemed to struggle making it through a church service on Easter Sunday. Roosevelt also avoided his beloved Warm Springs pools, instead the President rested, caught up on sleep, and visited with guests. The goal was for FDR to regain enough of his health to make a trip to San Francisco for the charter meeting of what would become the United Nations. At the Little White House with Roosevelt were some personal aides, military attaches, and cousins Daisy Suckley and Polly Delano. During his first week at Warm Springs, Roosevelt did very little work, dictating a few letters and reading briefings, stronger and more animated in the mornings and evenings but completely drained in the afternoon. One goal for Roosevelt was to gain weight – by the time he left Warm Springs, he hoped to be up to 170 lbs.

At 1 PM on April 12, Roosevelt sat in the living room of his cottage surrounded by friends and family. Elizabeth Shoumatoff had set up her easel in the living room where the President worked behind a card table that served as his makeshift desk. As Shoumatoff painted, FDR continued reading. The conversation was lively, the atmosphere congenial.

The president turned to the artist and reminded her that they had only fifteen minutes left in the session. Suddenly, he grabbed his head complaining of a sharp pain. Roosevelt could barely lift his head when Daisy asked what was wrong. He placed his left hand gently against the back of his head and, in a barely audible voice, told Daisy, “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head!” The president was suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage that would end his life in minutes.

America’s longest serving president who had led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II was dead. FDR was 63 years old.

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