George Kroloff for “poor georgie’s almanack,” reedited April 20, 2020

I asked a daughter-in-law of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt how kids reacted when hearing her last name.  Usually, she said, they would ask, “Oh, like Roosevelt Avenue?” 


Wednesday, January 10, 2001:  It was breezy, cold, and clear on The National Mall in Washington, DC, as President Bill Clinton unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) seated in a wheelchair.  The sculpture was a very late addition to the popular FDR Memorial that originally did not reveal his disability. 

Like most city kids born before air home conditioners, summers in the 1940s were not just hot and sweaty, they were scary.  Even scarier than World War Two.  

Debilitating and often deadly, Polio was hiding in the atmosphere, in the pool water, on a store shelf, even in the cool air of a movie theater.  It was an epidemic.  

Was the girl across the streetcar aisle who just coughed going to infect me?  What about the other kids in my apartment building?

My young friends and I knew that Polio, quietly and randomly, was ready to strike, maim and kill.  We were young but knew the meanings of some big words, like Infantile Paralysis, the adult name for Polio. 

Each summer’s Polio epidemic appeared to be worse than the last.  Newspaper photos and the increasingly popular TV reminded us of the many children and a few adults clinging to lives in Iron Lungs to help them breath.  Posters told us not to mix with new groups, not to get overtired or chilled, and to keep clean, especially to wash our hands.

Polio, Iron Lungs And Vaccines – The Post Newspaper


It wasn’t until 1955, ten years after FDR died, that a vaccine to prevent Polio was available.  

While President Roosevelt was open about being a Polio survivor he successfully concealed his skinny paralyzed legs from us.

warm springs/polio

To stand up, FDR had to wear ten pounds of braces on those limp limbs that were hidden by wide pants.  He could not walk, nor could he waddle, without strong people holding him up on each side.  Often they were his sons.

As the 1900s were rolling into the Twenty-first Century, most people with severe disabilities were shamed, shunned, and frequently hidden by their families.  Even if smart, they were seen by many as mentally deficient.  

That certainly wasn’t an attractive situation for an aspiring politician like Mr. Roosevelt in 1921 when he was hit by the polio virus.  In part by hiding his paralysis, FDR went on to be Governor of New York and the US president. 

The press totally covered up his disability and FDR was able to own his history for decades, even after his death.

Now back to the 1990’s.  As mentioned in the first essay on FDR’S WHEELCHAIR, one of my clients was the National Organization on Disability (NOD).   

Fifty years after President Roosevelt died, and after a slew of phone calls, I could locate but one photo of FDR in his chair and it hadn’t been published.  The picture shows him holding his dog Fala.  A little girl is standing at his side.  If you look online today you will find that very few FDR wheel-chair photos have since surfaced.  Only in 2018 did a smattering of home movies emerge.

NOD had commissioned surveys dealing with disability issues.  They confirmed that most people with disabilities, whether severe or not, were depressed.  Most didn’t seek education or jobs for which they were qualified.  

As NOD’s communications consultant I was one of the strategists mulling over the best way to follow-up the surveys.  The initial goal was to develop a nationwide campaign to encourage people with disabilities to seek jobs for which they were, or could become, qualified.  Concentrate on their abilities.  We also sought a simple message for employers about the unexplored abilities within the disability community.

The it was decided the FDR story was what we could tell … the story we had to tell.  And that he must be seen in a wheelchair to clearly illustrate his inspiring story and visually represent our motivational  messages.

At that time there was a small buzz about a large FDR Memorial set to open in 1997 on the National Mall.  There would only be one tiny indication that the man who led America out of The Great Depression and through WW2 did all that in a wheelchair. 

The one hint would be behind a statue of him seated.  FDR would be seen wearing the large cape he used to hide his wheelchair in public.  If a visitor could squeeze around the back and look down, there would be two small casters peeking out that might indicate they were attached to his chair.   

We hoped an NOD campaign to add a new statue with the ex-president in a wheelchair would open more positive discussions about disabilities than the highly divisive debate surrounding the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

(Having earlier been deeply involved in national controversies, I cautioned that our little cabal was about to occupy the lead car of a wild roller coaster.  I still carried scars from ZIP Code’s introduction in the 1960s while AT&T was strongly pushing its all-digit dialing.  This led citizens and editorial writers to claim we all would just be faceless numbers.  Like the FDR’s wheelchair divisions, a furious debate about “digits” involved facts vs. emotions.)  

One ambition was to accurately position NOD as being smack in the middle of the national and rational center.  A surprisingly large number of historians, men and women “on the street,” and editorial writers attacked NOD for going against a beloved leader’s wishes to keep his disability hidden from cameras.  

It was hard to get traction because NOD did not include, or want to include, the very controversial activists who were eye-candy for TV and tabloids by yelling and chaining themselves and their wheelchairs to the White House fence.  They were filling the available news and commentary space for disability issues.  Many of them were Vietnam Vets disappointed in their country having been responsible for their emotional and physical problems and then having been abandoned.

Across the country, and especially when kids started sending small contributions, a minor momentum for a wheelchair statue and a serious examination of disability issues emerged. 

Then, unexpectedly a steady stream of very senior print and broadcast reporters and  print columnists wanted to visit with NOD’s president Alan Reich, the chief architect of the strategy and tactics.  Usually these stentorians of certainty would humbly introduce themselves and tell Alan about a close friend or family member with a disability and say that he or she was the reason the newsperson sought to know more about the issues.  

I think their reports and columns about the real problems and potential progress of their own and others’ kith-and-kin were what turned the tide.  By the time a statue was commissioned NOD had raised over $1.5 million for the project.    

FDR’s surviving family, however, had posed a serious roadblock that took a huge amount of our time.  To hide-or-not-to-hide, that was their question … to honor Franklin’s wishes or honor his grit and abilities while in that darned chair.  For months there was no consensus.  The Roosevelt family’s very public differences revolved around the question of “Who Owns History.”  Eventually, most supported the statue and what it stood for.  

Since then Fake News has entered public discourse and the question of ownership of personal and governmental history is more relevant than ever.  The typical answer is “the winners own history.”  That probably was true in the past.  But now, any individual or organization with a smart phone, can try to shape what others, or history itself, will think of them.  (This essay, for instance.)

NOD won a battle, maybe it was just a skirmish, but the outcome was perceived as positive.  Even though it took over a half decade between our first planning session and the statue’s arrival on The Mall, America and those with disabilities were inching forward as the truth came out from behind the cloak.

An abbreviated cast of characters and a couple observations:

  • “Once you’ve spent two years trying to wiggle one toe, everything is in proportion.” — FDR, 1945
  • Michael Deland, chair of the NOD’s board of directors, was a very savvy guy who had worked in George H.W. Bush’s White House as chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.  I remember, Deland saying, the alterations made for Roosevelt made it a great working environment for a person like himself in a wheelchair. 
  • The atmosphere at NOD was alive with the sound of big thinkers.  Three of the most able were in wheelchairs; Reich, Deland, and Jim Brady (former Reagan spokesman, then a NOD VP).  Also, weighing in was Bernie Posner who for a long time had been the top federal bureaucrat dealing with disabilities.  Through no fault of his own Bernie was Steven Spielberg’s uncle.  
  • And Marty Walsh, a fundraiser and promoter previously with United Way of America.  Marty recently sent me an email about his intelligence gathering.  “I was able to talk my way into a secret office behind an unmarked door on the top floor of a Senate office building.  That’s where the planning of the FDR Memorial was underway.  It had been funded annually by the Senate since 1964.  I (Marty) posed as a curious out of town visitor … talked my way inside and saw the time-line and layout of the Memorial (to be) built. There was no plan to show FDR in a wheelchair.” 
  • Another sharp strategist was NOD’s Ginny Thornburg.  Her crusade to make places of worship more welcoming to persons with disabilities has brought brighter lights so attendees can read the prayer books, ramps used by people in or out of wheelchairs, and among other things, sound systems loud enough that parishioners can finally hear what the Hell is being said. 
  • Today, because of the ADA, common sense, and new attitudes, life is easier for people with and without disabilities.  Among the minor benefits are; mothers pushing strollers into crosswalks use the curb ramps and no longer awaken babies with a thump at every street corner … emergency signs feature large, readable type … doors automatically open for fathers with hands full of grocery bags.  During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, being able to avoid touching doors is a safety issue of high order.
  • While many disabilities may not be immediately evident, families, employers, and individuals are more open about them.  Increasingly, businesses are mining the motherlode of previously hidden talents.  Last year I heard that half of a huge top-of-the-list west coast sportswear company’s in-house designers were dyslexic.


Saudi oil again in news. Here’s colorful background you probably didn’t know.

poor georgie’s almanack


George Kroloff, reedited April 18, 2020



FDR Wheelchair white background.jpgIt was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1945.  The USS Quincy was anchored next to the USS Murphy in the Suez Canal’s Great Bitter Lake.

Increasingly frail, exhausted and sick, the president of the United States of America was returning home after an arduous week-long meeting in the Black Sea resort town of Yalta.  

There, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Russia’s Joseph Stalin, and England’s Winston Churchill, “The Big Three,” had made plans for the end of World War Two and decided which parts of Hitler’s Europe would be their own “spheres of influence.”

FDR flew from Yalta to The Quincy, the ship that would take him back to America.  Before the Quincy began it perilous trip the American president would conduct a second round of summitry, this time with Arab leaders.  FDR’s blood pressure on the USS Quincy was 260 over 150, according to several historical reports.

Two months later, Roosevelt would be dead.

During five hours of one-on-one discussions with Saudi Arabia’s ruler Ibn Saud, the gaunt but gritty FDR made an impromptu gesture of kindness and empathy that cemented the bond between Saudi Arabia and the USA … a relationship that significantly changed history.  (Photo: USS Quincy meeting.  Ibn Saud and Roosevelt are seated.)

FDR and Ibn Saud on ship.jpg

I learned about this because my client in the 1990s was Alan Reich.  Like FDR, Alan was confined to a wheelchair.  At age 32, his neck was broken in a diving accident.  His disability was much more serious than FDR’s, whose legs were paralyzed at age 39 by Polio.  Reich, also in a wheelchair, had a stellar career in and out of government.  He, then was president of the National Organization on Disability (NOD).  Roosevelt and Reich clearly proved that people with disabilities surely have important abilities.

Alan told me he wanted to create an annual award for heads-of-state celebrating their country’s efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities.  The award would be in FDR’s name.  The plan was simple, but the implementation would be tricky.  Reich, the UN Secretary General, and a yet-to-be-found major donor would jointly make the annual presentations to heads of state.  

Reich already had hooked Boutros Boutros-Ghali the sitting Secretary General (SG), but he needed to reel-in a big bundle of money to fully support the award.

Alan asked me to be his sole traveling companion for a one-day trip to New York.  By then I was fairly adept at handling the intricacies of accompanying a virtual quadriplegic, getting in and out of wheelchairs, cars and planes and navigating his wheelchair across busy streets.  The two of us visited the Saudi’s acting UN ambassador in his office and then had a short session with the SG at the UN Building.  

FDR and Ibn meeting.jpg

I had hastily located a photo of the historic 1945 meeting between FDR and Saudi King Ibn Saud.  For us it was just a prop.  For Saudis, we learned, it was iconic.  That image symbolized the very moment when the nation began to evolve from one of the world’s poorest down-and-out countries that couldn’t pay its bills into the stratosphere of the wealthiest nations.  

The intent was for me to take a photo of Alan in his own wheelchair next to the ambassador holding the historic photo.  We then could tell our story in a short caption. 

The ambassador’s visit was part of Alan’s campaign to raise $5 million from the desert nation for the award.  Alas, the Saudis passed on the opportunity.  The FDR award eventually was delivered to about ten heads of state, mostly at the UN, with meager funding from elsewhere.  But, that’s background noise for this essay.

Long after the New York trip I had time to research the FDR/Ibn Saud session.  And what a story that photo revealed!

It begins with a quirk of geology.  Much of the parched, sandy Arabian Peninsula covers a sea of oil.  

As WWII was grinding to its end both England and the USA, knowing that oil would power the recovery, wanted to get their hands around all of it.  They were courting 70-year-old Ibn Saud, the wily desert fighter who created Saudi Arabia and became an absolute monarch.  Only FDR had made a concerted effort to come and see him.  

Ibn Saud often left his palaces to live and govern in a tent.  He had relatively few modern conveniences.  At that time Saudi Arabia was desperately poor, making more money from pilgrims visiting Mecca than any other source.  The king was wary of the surrounding Arab rulers who wanted his land, especially the religious sites.  So, he sought a powerful security partner he could trust mano-mano, as well as wanting income. 

The Saudi ruler knew the logistics for the American president’s trip to meet with him was a really big deal.  Safely moving 63 year-old FDR through Nazi submarine-infested waters, and within range of German aircraft, was a major mission.  An armada of warships and dozens of warplanes were involved in the voyage from Norfolk, Virginia in the USA to the “Big Three” summit and back, including the Suez detour to summit with Ibn Saud.   

Map Suez Canal surroundings.png

One vessel, the USS Murphy, had taken a stealth side trip to Jeddah, the Saudi city on the Red Sea.  There it  picked up the King and his 48-person entourage of servants, cooks, an astrologer, food taster and imposing barefoot body guards.  Seven sheep were penned on the rear deck to be skinned and cooked following Islamic dietary traditions.  Sailors  created the pen by stringing ropes between depth charges.


A group of the King’s wives and harem, originally scheduled for the trip, remained in Saudi Arabia.  Navy brass nixed having all those women onboard for the trip from Jeddah to Suez.

During his first time on a motorized ship, Ibn Saud slept in a large tent erected on the Murphy’s outside deck.  The tent was supported by the ship’s forward 5-inch gun, pointing up toward the stars.  Sailors, of course, nicknamed the destroyer “Big Top.” 

Angelo Marinelli, a seaman on the mission, told his local paper, “They built campfires on the deck of the destroyer.  Every sailor aboard was carrying a fire extinguisher in case the fires in the tents got out of hand.”  


Several reports claim the ship’s crew, the king and his entourage overcame language barriers and got along famously.  The Navy men introduced many of their guests to movies and the king’s bodyguards impressed sailors with demonstrations of using their scimitar-like swords.  Or maybe those were warnings?

Because the hulking Ibn Saud suffered severe pain while walking, ship decks were carpeted to alleviate some of the King’s discomfort. 

Once aboard the Quincy and seated next to the US President, Ibn Saud and FDR famously bonded.  In large part that was because of their disabilities.  The King, whose cane is visible in the photo, had never seen anything like the President’s wheelchair and was fascinated. 

In an impulsive act, FDR gave Ibn Saud one of his wheelchairs.  This turned out to be a much bigger deal than the officially planned gift, which was a fully-manned DC-3 passenger plane  with a swivel throne.  Thus, while in the air, the King could painlessly rotate toward Mecca to pray.

After discovering that the thin wheels of FDR’s chair didn’t work in Saudi sand, and because the king was much larger than the president, the monarch had several constructed with wide wheels.  

In summary, the USA was awarded the long-term right to drill, process and sell the oil.  Saudi Arabia became one of the richest nations in the world.  

That picture of the two leaders, one with a cane and one with a cape over his shoulder, hiding a wheelchair from cameras, became the most-seen photo in all of Saudi Arabia.  It showed two sly old, battered men who had conquered their worlds and their painful disabilities.  

And it depicted one of the most significant impetuous acts of kindness and compassion in modern history.


1.  A long retrospective on these April 1945 events posted on the Saudi based arabnews.com provides colorful details about the secret meeting.  It includes some of the after-event notes prepared by the chief US diplomat involved, William A. Eddy, who was the official translator.  

He reported that near the end of their meeting “Roosevelt told Ibn Saud: ‘You are luckier than I because you can still walk on your legs and I have to be wheeled wherever I go.’  The king replied: ‘No, my friend, you are more fortunate.  Your chair will take you wherever you want to go and you know you will get there.  My legs are less reliable and are getting weaker every day.’

“At this, the president said: ‘If you think so highly of this chair I will give you the twin … as I have two on board.”

2.  The Ibn Saud meeting covered considerably more than oil and there were strong differences of opinion about a future Jewish state in Palestine.  Nonetheless, the camaraderie was deep.

3.  Before seeing Ibn Saud, Roosevelt met with King Farouk of Egypt and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.  These were much less historic events.  

4.  England was America’s main rival for the Saudi oil.  After leaving the USS Quincy, Ibn Saud went to meet Winston Churchill near Cairo and returned to Jeddah on an English warship.  

Canny FDR had sanctioned that meeting expecting the two would not get along.  The Saudi ruler reportedly found the British Prime Minister to be an unpleasant character.   

The posting on arabnews.com says the Churchill-Ibn Saud session occurred because the English PM found out that FDR was going to meet with Ibn Saud and wanted to be part of the action.  

Quoting William A. Eddy’s notes, “whereas the Americans had taken (Ibn Saud) on a destroyer, (The British) were going to return him on a cruiser.” That would be a larger and supposedly more prestigious ship.

Later, the king told Eddy that he “did not enjoy his return trip to Jeddah.”  Among his complaints about the dull voyage were … “the food was tasteless; there were no demonstrations of armament; no tent was pitched on the deck; the crew did not fraternize with his Arabs; and altogether he preferred the smaller but more friendly US destroyer.”


The Grippe

poor georgie’s almanack
The “Grippe” is another name for flu.
US President John Tyler has been called the Donald Trump of the 1840s, in part because of their shared views on immigration.
Tyler was inciting Protestant attacks on Irish Catholics. Trump’s targets are different, but the language used is similar.
John Tyler has the dubious honor of being the only US President for whom an epidemic is named.
He had been elevated from VP in 1841 when old “Tippecanoe” (President William Henry Harrison) died a month after his inauguration. He died from what became known as the “Tyler Grippe.”
Trump and Pence say the current flu is no-one’s fault. Certainly, they would gripe if it becomes known as the “Trump Tragedy” or the “Pence Pandemic.”