James Roosevelt, a six-term Congressman, former delegate to the United Nations and eldest son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died yesterday [August 13, 1991] at his home in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 83 years old.
Complications from a stroke and Parkinson’s disease were the causes of death, said his son H. Delano Roosevelt.
“My little boy, Jimmy,” was the way Franklin Roosevelt introduced his eldest son, then 24 years old and 6 feet 4 inches tall, to crowds in the 1932 Presidential campaign. The line always drew a laugh.
James Roosevelt’s presence at his father’s side presaged his own political ambitions.
Soon after graduating from Harvard College in 1930, he attended Boston University Law School while at the same time earning as much as $250,000 a year selling insurance. Asked by reporters if his long-term goals were in law or insurance, he said, “Neither, it’s politics.”
James Roosevelt was born in New York City on Dec. 23, 1907, in the first house his father and mother, Eleanor, had all to themselves — a brownstone on 36th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. He was the second of six children and the last one surviving.
Following family custom, he attended the Groton School, where, in his father’s words, he “did very well in athletics and leadership, rather poorly in studies.”
In 1936, he put aside his business career to campaign for his father’s re-election. He then joined the White House staff as a $6,000-a-year executive assistant. A year later, he was appointed a full secretary, acting as a go-between for his father to the heads of Federal agencies.
Although he had gastric ulcers, when the United States entered World War II, Mr. Roosevelt pulled the strings available to him to be assigned to combat. He commanded a Marine battalion in the Gilbert Islands in August 1942 and was awarded the Navy Cross for saving three men from drowning in heavy surf. He fought at Guadalcanal and at the second Battle of Midway and, in 1943, was awarded the Silver Star.
After the war, Mr. Roosevelt settled in Beverly Hills, Calif., and soon became active in politics. In 1950, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of California, but lost to the Republican incumbent, Earl Warren. He was elected to Congress four years later and represented California’s 26th District for the next 11 years.
Then, in August 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as a delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Mr. Roosevelt gave up the post in December 1966 and became president of the International Overseas Services Management Company. He had touched off criticism earlier that year by accepting a job on the board of a mutual fund sponsored by the company. Critics asserted that he was compromising his United Nations position.
Mr. Roosevelt had other brushes with controversy. Some Democrats never forgave him for the prominent role he played in Democrats for Nixon in 1972. In 1983, Mr. Roosevelt launched the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which describes itself as an advocacy group for the concerns of the elderly. The organization came under criticism for using what opponents called scare tactics and mailings to elderly people that looked like Government correspondence.
Mr. Roosevelt married four times. His first marriage, to Betsey Cushing, ended in divorce in 1940. They had two daughters. In 1955, divorce ended his second marriage, to Romelle Schneider, with whom he had a daughter and two sons. He married Gladys Irene Owens a year later, and the couple had a son. That marriage ended in September 1969, and a month later Mr. Roosevelt married Mary Lena Winskill, with whom he had another daughter.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his three sons, James Jr., Michael and H. Delano, and four daughters, Sara, Kate, Anne and Rebecca.