Death and Last Portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

a low-resolution image of the last portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt created by Elizabeth Shoumatoff

Elizabeth Shoumatoff (1888-1980) was using water colors to paint President Roosevelt’s portrait at his “Little White House,” in Warm Springs, on the 12th of April, 1945.

Suddenly, the President reported a raging headache. He never recovered; the painting remained unfinished.

Grace Tully—FDR’s longtime secretary who had worked with the President for about seventeen years and was also in Warm Springs that day—received a phone call that something was wrong with her boss. The man who had led his country from the depths of a Great Depression, to the nearing-end of WWII, was in a coma.

Tully tells the story in her book, F.D.R. My Boss, which she published in 1949. Her heart chilled, she says, when she heard the news:

I could feel a chill in my heart, a sense that this was something different from another complaint about his sinus acting up or his tummy being out of whack. I decided to go at once to the President's cottage.

By the time I reached the house, both Bruenn and Fox [two physicians] were with the President in his bedroom. Miss Suckley [the President’s cousin] was in the living room, Miss Delano [another cousin] entered from the bedroom as I walked in. There were sounds of tortured breathing from the bedroom and low voices of the two men attending him.

Miss Delano and Miss Suckley looked shocked and frightened; the former told me the President had finished some work with Mr. Hassett [an assistant to the president] and was sitting for Madame Shoumatoff [the artist]. At 1:00 o'clock the President remarked to the artist, "We have only fifteen minutes.”

At 1:15 he put his hand to his head and slumped backward in a coma. Prettyman and a Filipino house boy had carried him from his chair to his bedroom.

Hacky already had gotten Dr. McIntire on the phone in Washington and had put Bruenn on the line with him. At McIntire's instruction, Dr. James E. Paullin, a heart specialist in Atlanta, had been summoned. Dr. Paullin made a desperately fast automobile trip to Warm Springs and arrived while we were waiting anxiously in the living room.

Almost within seconds of Paullin’s arrival, Bruenn was called again by Dr. McIntire. While on the phone he was summoned back to the bedroom. Bruenn left the line open as he disappeared into the Boss' room. In a minute or so he was back. With a tragically expressive gesture of his hands he picked up the phone again. I knew what his message was before he spoke. The President was dead.

Tully kept her composure. It was what the President would have wanted her to do:

My reaction of the moment was one of complete lack of emotion. It was as if my whole mind and sense of feeling had been swept away. The shock was unexpected and the actuality of the event was outside belief.

Without a word or a glance toward the others present, I walked into the bedroom, leaned over and kissed the President lightly on the forehead. Then I walked out on the porch and stood wordless and tearless.

In my heart were prayers and, finally, in my mind came thoughts, a flood of them drawn from seventeen years of acquaintance, close association and reverent admiration. Through them, one recurred constantly - that the Boss had always shunned emotionalism and that I must, for the immediate present at least, behave in his pattern.

I did, for a matter of hours. (Tully, quoted at "EyeWitness to History," in "The Death of President Franklin Roosevelt, 1945.")

Americans could not keep their composure when hearing about their collective loss. The man who had seen them through the Great Depression, then led the nation through an awful war, was gone.

When he died, FDR was 63 years old. Many considered his loss as one of the greatest casualties of World War II.

The last painting of FDR did not come into the possession of the American people. The artist had it copyrighted, in 1945, and it remains copyrighted to this day. 

Famous, because it is the last portrait image of President Roosevelt, the painting's image is seen here in low-resolution.  The original is displayed at the “Little White House” Museum in Warm Springs, Georgia.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Aug 14, 2018

Media Credits

Image copyright, 1945, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, all rights reserved.  Provided here as fair use for educational purposes.  Image online, courtesy Miller Center at the University of Virginia. 


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"Death and Last Portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Aug 14, 2018.
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