FDR: Humanity and Humor

Garner FDR laugh(John Nance Garner and President Franklin D. Roosevelt meet on the presidential train in Uvalde, Texas in September 1942.)

According to John McCrea, FDR’s naval aide, President Roosevelt was typically light-hearted and full of good cheer. He liked people and went out of his way to show his interest in them. He loved to banter and joke with his associates and enjoyed a good laugh over a joke or an amusing story. For FDR, humor was means to alleviate stress and fatigue, bond with others, and repair tattered relationships. The story behind this picture is a case in point.

John Nance Garner was FDR’s vice president during his first two terms. Their relationship soured when Garner strongly disapproved of FDR’s quest for a third presidential term in 1940. After finishing his term as vice president, an alienated Garner retired from Washington, D.C. to his hometown in Uvalde, Texas. In mid-September 1942, FDR embarked on a two-week tour of U.S. war production plants and troop training facilities, making a large loop around the country by train. Upon learning that his train would pass through Uvalde, FDR invited Garner to visit him on the train, and despite the rift in their relationship, Garner accepted.

McCrea was standing outside the president’s car after Garner was escorted in to see the president. Soon peals of laughter were emanating from the president’s sitting area, and McCrea concluded that the two men were evidently having a good time. After a half-hour visit, Garner walked to his car escorted by Ross McIntire, the president’s physician, Steve Early, the president’s press secretary, and McCrea.

Garner remarked how he appreciated the opportunity to see the president again. Turning, he placed his hand on McIntire’s shoulder and said, “Ross, a great man is in your hands. Take good care of him, because this country needs him badly.” McCrea was impressed with the earnestness of Garner’s charge. Afterwards the president told McCrea, “It was fine to see John Garner again. He is a great, great American and a great friend.” FDR’s humanity and humor were the lubricants that brought reconciliation between these estranged associates who clearly shared great respect for one another.



Captain McCrea’s War, Chs. 12, 13.