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Winter Session 2014

In 1944, with the end of the fighting in Europe in sight, he ran for a fourth term against New York governor Thomas E. Dewey and was resoundingly re-elected. Though his personal physician had officially judged him fit, FDR was ill. He was being treated for hypertension and congestive heart disease, exacerbated by forty years of smoking. Frank Lahey, M.D. ’04, a consulting physician, may also have detected an inoperable stomach tumor that had metastasized from a facial melanoma. FDR’s color was poor; he looked gaunt, haggard, and much older than 62. But he could still reach back for a burst of energy when he needed it. In a New York City motorcade in October he rode for hours in an open car as cold rain fell. A speech to the Teamsters Union in Washington-his “Fala speech”-had virtually clinched his election:
These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars-his Scottish soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself but I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.

  His participation in the Yalta conference, held at a Black Sea port in February 1945, left him physically depleted. His hands now shook alarmingly. In April he went to his winter home in Warm Springs, Georgia, to rest before going to San Francisco for a conference inaugurating the United Nations. Before lunch, on April 12 he was reading the day’s mail while having his portrait painted. He had dressed for the portrait in a double-breasted suit and Harvard tie. The artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, recalled that he looked “surprisingly well.” Suddenly FDR collapsed, putting his hand to his head and saying he had “a terrific pain.”

  After two hours of tortured breathing, he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The news went out on national radio just before six. It crackled around the world almost instantaneously, arousing shock and consternation everywhere. In London the hour was midnight; the British Broadcasting Company’s bulletin called it “the darkest night of the war.”