My Cousins: Over, under or through, but never around

Many people have inspired me, including my cousins; one of whom you may have heard of, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt …

My cousin, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt is a figure I draw inspiration from every day. Genealogically, he is my first cousin twice removed; or perhaps more simply, my grandmother’s grandfather was his uncle. While participating in the Spanish American War with the First Volunteer Cavalry, Theodore discovered a U.S. army detachment all hunkered down at the base of Kettle and San Juan Hill. He said, “What’s the matter, why aren’t you advancing? Let’s move!” To which the ranking officer replied, “You’re not my commanding officer.” With that, Theodore announced with force, “Move away, then, and let my men through — Charge!!!” Theodore’s determination created victory for that battle fought in Cuba, which would lead to victory of the campaign.

I admire his energy, tenacity and fearlessness. He’s such a huge figure, for our family and the world. I love his adventurous spirit. Theodore was an army colonel, a cowboy who rode on horseback in a cavalry, an author, a boxer, a diplomat, and a thinker and negotiator … and explorer. As for me, I’ve learned from his example in many ways, especially through our family’s game — Over, Under or Through, but Never Around.

What to do when you encounter an obstacle

Theodore’s character influences our family dynamics through the concept of this game — when you encounter an obstacle, he believed, you help those with you get through it.

He used to play this game with the family’s kids. It’s a very physical game; and it teaches an important life lesson. Those willing to participate in Teddy’s game, would start at a point outside, often in his backyard, and choose a destination. This game was passed down through the family and I played it as a child also. We would trudge through swamps and climb trees to get to our destination. When a fence stood in our way, we’d have to go over, under or through it … but never around. We reenacted or recreated this game in the movie “The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt”

A fun game, we ended up in some interesting situations. But we figured it out, as a team. The group pulls together in a way reminiscent of Theodore’s straightforward approach to life.

The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt (and Archie)

Teddy impacted my passion for problem solving, as did his son Archie. I actually played Archie in the movie “The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt.” I’ve always felt a certain connection to Archie because he mailed me a postcard on my first birthday. It’s still on my desk.

So at an early age, I knew that I was related to a president, and that this president was one of the country’s best, or most notable. I lived just a mile away from his house, where I volunteered in my teens. My father maintained a close relationship with Archie who passed away in the 1970’s and with Teddy’s youngest daughter Ethel. I met Ethel when I was a child before she also passed away in the 70’s.

Learning more about Archie in school and playing him in the movie. I realized Archie was in WWI and WWII. He was one of, if not the only, soldier to be declared honorably discharged for service related injuries in two different wars. Even though he was considered to have served and physically disabled after WWI, he wanted back in. The military said, “No, you’re done. Be safe.” But he insisted and became an officer in the South Pacific in WWII. His persistence is so inspiring. When his unit was under fire and people died all around, he stood up as the target. He could see where the fire was coming from the muzzle flashes aimed at him. He stood there, risking his live, and communicated the locations of the machine gun nests back to command and saved his men … and greatly assisted securing the victory of that battle. Archie was willing to stand in the face of fire and risk his life for the team, like his father Theodore.

Theodore Roosevelts oldest son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. also served in WWI and WWII. Today, June 6th, marks the 74th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion. TR Jr. was a General in WWII and took part in the Normandy Invasion and the European theater. He heroically made it to safety on the beach, only to return to the landing boats and the shore numerous times to lead and carry more men to safety.

The power of exploration, networking and problem solving

Teddy & his sons, Theodore Jr. and Archie stood in the face of fire: on horseback, on the beach, in the jungle. My cousin Theodore wore many other hats involving a thirst for adventure and bravery to serve our country.

The charge up San Juan Hill is amazing. My takeaways are the power of exploration and networking: Theodore’s volunteer cavalry (deemed the “Rough Riders” which is the title of his book on his account of the war) was the first of its kind, comprised of a consistent cross section of America, people who could ride and shoot, cowboys from Oklahoma and New Mexico, Wild West lawmen, Native Americans, Harvard football quarterback Dudley Dean, tennis champion Bob Wrenn, and the world’s greatest polo player Joseph Sampson Stevens. He networked with all sorts of people, from the east and north and south and west … rich and poor.

Along the way, Theodore followed the rules of our childhood game — over, under or through, but never around. I follow them, too, as an architect. In design school, my professor said, “There’s no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity to design a solution.” I love problem solving and embracing challenges because they are all opportunities for growth.

When somebody says, “Will you help me solve my problem?” that’s music to my ears. I want to improve people’s lives, and I am fascinated by each problem that is encountered. With the materials and fixtures available to us today, there’s a lot that can be done. Cost is only part of the challenge, another element of the battle plan. That’s what’s fascinating about architecture, rarely do I have formalization of what the solution is going to look like when I start. But when I follow the design process and solve each problem as it arrives, then the result shines.

What’s the fun in knowing everything at the beginning? Fortunately, the Roosevelt family taught me early on that when I move through life, I should never avoid an obstacle. Never try to go around, Teddy would say, go over, under or through.

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