Last week the New York Times published a 50-year-old photo of Eleanor Roosevelt carrying her own bag at LaGuardia Airport.
I sent the post to my former teaching colleague and friend Mike Abbott, who in turn forwarded it to his teaching colleague and friend, Pete Pascaris [all of us who had been teachers in the Livonia (Michigan) Public Schools] because he remembered that Pete had met Roosevelt around that same time.
Pete sent the following comment on the story to the Times, which now appears with the article accompanying the photo:
“As part of a delegation from Wayne State University, I had the opportunity to greet Eleanor Roosevelt at Detroit’s Metro Airport in 1962. Her daughter greeted her with us and took her suitcase, but Mrs. Roosevelt continued to carry her small overnight case. Later that day, I sat next to her at a dinner honoring her as first recipient of our Education Day Award, introduced her to an overflow crowd in the auditorium, and asked her questions passed on from the audience. At dinner, she showed genuine interest in me, asking about my studies, my interests, my ambitions, and my family. More importantly, she listened attentively, asked follow-up questions to my answers, and never displayed any condescension whatsoever.
“In her speech, she said, ‘The most important thing to learn is to learn how to learn.’ I was so moved by her words and my experience that day, I used her phrase on the first day of every class I taught over my thirty-three-year teaching career. Although I taught math and science (and later, chemistry), I repeatedly told my students that ‘learning how to learn’ was their primary objective. ‘Not all of you will be scientists or mathematicians,’ I would say, ‘but all of you will be learners the rest of your lives.’
“Mrs. Roosevelt’s lifetime example spoke even louder than her words. She taught me that not all of us will be president or a spouse of a president, but all of us . . . regardless of station . . . can act in a manner that honors the person we are with.”