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Teddy Roosevelt: Bold President, Lousy Speller

May 7, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Theodore Roosevelt boldly shaped the powers of the presidency but wasn’t too busy for nightly pillow fights with his kids, according to a White House lecturer’s fond remembrance.

President Bush and 200 guests listened raptly to the lecture on the ″bold, noisy, irrepressibly energetic″ 26th president on Sunday by prize-winning biographer David McCullough.

Bush called Roosevelt ″a favorite of mine, a man who helped shape the modern presidency, the inexhaustible T.R.″

The audience included congressional leaders who met afterward with Bush to discuss future budget negotiations.

Bush smiled broadly at House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., when McCullough read from one letter in which Roosevelt complained he felt ″like a stewed owl″ after dealing with members of Congress all day.

Roosevelt’s solution to such frustrations was vigorous physical activity, including workouts with Japanese wrestlers that left him bruised from head to toe.

He once marched two British visitors right through a duck pond on the White House grounds that fortunately turned out to be only three feet deep.

Roosevelt, only 42 when he became president in 1901 upon the assassination of William McKinley, was the first tennis-playing president, as well as the first to ride in an automobile, fly in a plane, sail on a submarine and venture abroad.

He dispensed with the formality of being addressed as ″Your Excellency″ and paid no heed to public opinion.

McCullough quoted the Rough Rider as saying, ″I don’t know what they think. I just know what they ought to think.″

When Congress objected to his sending 16 U.S. battleships on a tour around the world, Roosevelt sent the fleet off anyway.

″Theodore determined that there was enough money in the Treasury to send them halfway. So he said, ’I’ll send them halfway and Congress can decide whether to appropriate the money to bring them back again,‴ said McCullough, author of ″Mornings on Horseback,″ an account of Roosevelt’s early years.

Roosevelt was a prime participant in ″rampant, wild pillow fights almost every night″ with his six children, the writer said.

He went on a real-life safari after leaving office in 1909, but his reluctance once to fire upon a small bear led a New York toymaker to conceive a novelty item: the ″teddy″ bear.

He set aside millions of acres for national forests and parks and ″did more for conservation than any president before and very few since,″ McCullough said.

He renovated a ″somewhat creepy″ White House and scuttled plans to fill the mansion with offices and make the president live elsewhere.

″He couldn’t spell worth anything,″ but read a book each night and could quote from them years later, the author said.

He created a stir in the South by inviting Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute as the first black dinner guest at the White House.

That so delighted pianist Scott Joplin that he promptly wrote ″The Strenuous Life Rag″ in Roosevelt’s honor. McCullough interrupted his narrative and had a pianist play the piece for the East Room audience.

″His words, many of them, written or spoken so long ago, still have enormous validity today,″ said McCullough.

Among Roosevelt’s sayings: ″This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live.‴

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