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Excerpt: R. Samuel Baty

Footsteps to Forever



Chapter 2: The President and the Professor

At 5 p.m. on October 21, Professor James Flannigan was escorted into the president’s favorite room, his private study on the second floor of the White House. Here, FDR conducted a great deal of the business of the presidency. He also used the cozy little room to rest and relax—reading, playing poker with some of his close friends, and working on his beloved stamp collection.

Flannigan felt himself honored to be asked to meet with one of the most powerful men in the world. The professor was a very unassuming man, known for his modesty. In technical circles, he was noted for sharing the philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Flannigan was certainly not hesitant to give credit where credit was due.

While he waited for the president to arrive, he glanced at the titles of the books lining the shelves and piled on the corner of the president’s small desk. Remembering that FDR had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, Flannigan was not surprised to see a book titled The Old Navy and the New. He also saw one with dog-eared pages titled The Papers of John David Long. Obviously, the president had referred to it often. But who was Long? Ah, yes! He’d been Secretary of the Navy at the end of the nineteenth century. No wonder the president had referred to it often.

The books looked very interesting, and the professor wished he had time to read some of them. “Hello, James,” the president said, wheeling briskly into the room with an aide at his side. “It’s all right if I call you James, isn’t it?”

“Why certainly, Mr. President.”

“Would you like one of my famous martinis, James?”

“Mr. President, that’s the best offer I’ve had all day!”

FDR motioned for the aide to bring in his martini fixings. Soon, the president was putting the drinks together: a hint of vermouth, a fine grade of gin, and two chilled, plump green olives on a toothpick.

“James, I propose a toast to the United States.”

“Hear! Hear!” They each took a sip. “Mr. President, this is the best martini that I’ve ever had!”

The famous smile spread over the president’s face.

It didn’t take them long to discover they had a common interest in stamp collecting. The president pulled out his albums, and Flannigan noted FDR had some very rare stamps. The professor was amazed at how much time and care Roosevelt must have put into assembling the albums and the stamp displays.

“You’re obviously devoted to this hobby,” he said.

“It’s my favorite pastime,” the president replied. “But let me tell you about some of my other off-duty interests.”

The books in his study, he said, were only a small part of his 14,000-volume library, which included many rare bibliographic treasures. He’d amassed a vast coin collection and accumulated thousands of naval paintings. The mounted birds evident in substantial numbers around the room had been collected over a lifetime. Especially pleasing to the president were his splendid models of sailing ships—they gave the small room a nautical flavor. FDR related to Flannigan the detailed histories of each of these ships.

“Mr. President, you are truly amazing. I had no idea of the breadth and depth of your interests.”

“James,” the president said. “I find that I like your company! Would you like another martini?” After mixing two more, the president got down to business.


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