When Nina Roosevelt Gibson was born in 1942, her grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, were serving their third term as President and First Lady.
After Franklin died in office a few years later, Eleanor traveled the world as a diplomat, speaker, and activist. She was a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, the leader of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, and the chief of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. She served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, moderated two radio shows, hosted a TV news program, and wrote 16 books.
But she was never too busy for Nina.
“My grandmother was the most important person in my life,” said Nina, who is a daughter of Franklin and Eleanor’s youngest child, John, in an interview with PBS in 1999.
“And I for a long time had no idea that she was famous,” Nina said. “So as I reflect back [I] realize that at the time she was giving me a lot of personal time, she was a very busy woman. And I didn’t really know it, because I was pretty naive.”
“And she was so important as a grandmother partially because, for me anyway, my own parents were difficult to [be raised by]. They had a view of children that I didn’t really fit into. I was a sickly child on a number of occasions. I was very shy. I was very withdrawn. My mother … had hoped for a daughter that would be beautiful and very social, and I just wasn’t those things.”
“So my grandmother was the one that I turned to for love, for support. Not that my parents didn’t love me. They did. But for additional love and support.”
“And my grandmother was always there. I spent many nights in her house as opposed to my own, which was right next door. And I was particularly fortunate because I lived right next door to my grandmother my whole life. I grew up at Val-Kill [the family compound in Hyde Park, N.Y.]. And then when I was in New York City, I was welcome in her apartment at any time I wanted to go. And I knew that, and I took advantage of it for sure. I was at her house frequently.”
“And she took me on trips, and we had a lot of fun together, [and] I learned a tremendous amount on those trips from her. And she took time to teach me. It wasn’t that I was learning by osmosis. She took the time to teach me a lot of things.”
“And my parents at the time just were unable. They had, you know, four children, and my sister died, and that really kind of took quite a while for my parents to adjust to that loss. And so my grandmother became for me, you know, a tremendous mainstay.”
Eleanor died in 1962, at age 78. Nina, now 73, lives in Vail, Arizona.