Students 'Meet' Nation's 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

Soon after walking on stage, the man with the squeaky voice, bushy moustache and pince-nez glasses said the famous word he'd coined - "bully."

What else would you expect from Theodore Roosevelt?

The 26th president, whose face is immortalized on Mount Rushmore, talked about his cowboy adventures in North Dakota, the wounds he received leading the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War and making a 90-minute speech with a bullet lodged in his chest and blood seeping into his shirt after an assassination attempt. He also talked about the deaths of his mother and first wife within hours of each other - his mother from typhoid fever and his wife from kidney disease two days after giving birth to their daughter Alice.

The stories are second nature to James Foote, who's portrayed Roosevelt for more than 30 years, at places ranging from the White House to Comedy Central. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Florida brought Foote to the Main Library auditorium recently for performances underwritten by the Roger L. and Rochelle S. Main Charitable Trust.

About 1,550 students and their teachers from 20 public and private schools heard Foote speak over a two-day period at the downtown library.

Foote told the students he was able to imitate Roosevelt's voice because he was the first president to be recorded. Roosevelt, he said, grew up sickly and plagued by asthma so severe he wasn't expected to live past his teens.

Yet he lived to be 60 and compiled a remarkable resume. He was a conservationist, historian, essayist, natural scientist, cowboy, explorer, hunter, state legislator, New York City police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, colonel of a fighting regiment, governor of New York, vice president, the nation's youngest president (age 42) and the first American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, Foote said.

Foote repeated many of Roosevelt's quotations, telling the students, for example, that "nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty."

During a question-and-answer session, Foote was asked about the hardest part of being president. Nothing, he replied, adding that no man enjoyed being president more than Roosevelt.

Another student wanted to know if Roosevelt died when he gave his long speech after being shot. No, he went to the hospital afterward, and doctors opted to let the wound heal around the bullet, which it did, he said. …