T. R.’s Birthday

T. R.’s Birthday

By Robert A. Hedeen, Naturalist

“Theodore Roosevelt: A giant among titans, who, in spite of all the honor and glory heaped upon him, managed to remain an ace among men.”


Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, and the youngest at age 42 to hold that office, was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City into a socially prominent and wealthy family. He was educated at Harvard, where he excelled in his studies, including the biological sciences, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He first planned a career in law but turned to history, writing, and politics. At the tender age of 24 he published his first book, the acclaimed, The Naval War of 1812.

In 1883, he was emotionally devastated when both his wife and mother died on the same day. This led him to leave New York to live and work on a ranch he had purchased in the Badlands of the then-Dakota Territory. For several years, he spent his time adapting to the life of a wilderness rancher and hunter while recuperating his health. Out of this period of his life came an intensification of his long-time interest in the outdoors and the conservation of natural resources.

After returning to New York, he entered politics more or less by chance, and his eventual rise to the presidency is legendary. His service in the Spanish-American War as the organizer and leader of the Rough Riders enhanced his political career and led to his being posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor,

During his relatively short life (he died in 1919 at the age of 61), T. R. was a revered statesman (he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War), soldier, true cowboy, big game hunter, naturalist, prolific writer, and intrepid explorer. But, perhaps, more than any of these, he should be remembered for his contributions to the preservation of our natural environment.

As president, he gave conservation his full support and attention and made it a matter for the national conscience. He left a legacy of national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas that has not been surpassed by any other chief executive. Our recognition of the importance of conservation, for example, stems from the “Conference of Governors” which he convened at the White House soon after his inauguration. For the first time, the leaders of the states were made aware of the importance of the conservation and the intelligent use of the fundamental source of our country’s wealth—its natural resources.

As a writer, he fired a bitter barrage at the romantic nature writers of the time and did much to put an end to the worst of the anthropomorphic drivel that characteristically flowed from their pens. Though not a trained biologist or naturalist, he was intensely interested in everything alive and was a keen observer and reporter. He continued to write until the end of his life, and most of his works reflect a profound awareness of nature. I have personally enjoyed his several volumes of African Game Trails (written in the years following his presidency) perhaps a bit more than his other works. No detail was missed by T.R’s vision, and many of the observations he made in Africa have formed the basis for our modern-day understanding of the fauna and flora of that great continent.

Roosevelt endeared himself to the common man—the plain folks—because he was so very human, with an irrepressible sense of humor, and so intensely American. He was affectionately nicknamed Teddy, The Rough Rider who carried a big stick he used on perceived enemies of the United States, both foreign and domestic.

Like all of us, he had his shortcomings, one of which was his insatiable desire always to be in the limelight. It has been said “He was the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

Teddy was at the peak of his popularity in 1902, and in that year, in the hills of eastern Tennessee, my grandmother gave birth to her first son. She and grandfather name him Mark Roosevelt Livesay, in honor of their champion. Throughout his life, my uncle was extremely proud of his middle name and took care to point out that “Roosevelt” had nothing to do with F.D.R.

Today, many of us are not happy with the way our natural resources are being exploited and devastated by insensitive politicians and greedy “developers.” I find myself frequently wishing we had a modern day leader in the image of T.R.; to swing the big stick and to strike a blow for the common man.

Happy birthday, Teddy, we miss you.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960-1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

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