SCI Celebrates FDR as One of Its Maritime Leaders

May 1, 2009

by John B. McGrath, Senior Development Officer

On April 21, SCI celebrated the succession of strong maritime leaders, including FDR, who have provided for the welfare of mariners in the Port of New York and New Jersey for 175 years. Seventy guests gathered on the Top Deck at 241 Water Street in New York to hear remarks introduced by Nancy Roosevelt Ireland, granddaughter of President Roosevelt, and presented by Lynn Bassanese, Deputy Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Herman Eberhardt, FDR Museum Curator, joined Bassanese and offered a tour of the exhibition, “FDR and the Sea,” at the South Street Seaport Museum, which co-sponsored the event. Carter, Ledyard & Milburn sponsored the evening’s reception.

Bassanese noted that, “being part of one of New York’s most prominent Episcopal seafaring families, it was no surprise that the Seamen’s Church Institute … should reach out to FDR.”  His love of the sea and his concern for the welfare of mariners continued throughout 37 years of service at SCI. In the midst of the Depression, a mariner expressed confidence that the United States would “weather the storm…because there is a Seaman at wheel.”

At the age of 26, Franklin Roosevelt had just begun his career in public service as a lawyer at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn when he joined the Board of Managers at the Seamen’s Church Institute. He maintained his commitment to SCI through his struggle with polio and his service as Governor of New York and President of the United States. FDR was one in a group of dedicated leaders who guided SCI through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the significant post-war evolution of the shipping industry.

The Rev. David M. Rider, SCI’s Executive Director, welcomed the sons of two other members of this distinguished group as honorary co-chairmen of the event. The fathers of Clarence Michalis and Franklin Vilas served as SCI Board Presidents at a critical time for SCI, fulfilling the vision of expanding services to seafarers beyond Manhattan to Port Newark. The younger Michalis and Vilas also served many years on SCI’s Board.

Another Board President at SCI, Edmund Baylies, played a significant role in FDR’s life. Baylies, a partner at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, wrote the letter offering employment to Roosevelt at his firm in 1907. FDR became Baylies’ law clerk, and they worked together in maritime law and as leaders in SCI’s mission for the welfare of mariners. Their relationship continued until Baylies’ death in 1932. These men, together with the elder Michalis and Vilas, led SCI in succession for a total of 95 years.

Rider noted that SCI today continues to fulfill and expand its 175-year-old mission to the maritime community, assisting the world’s mariners with innovative programs and services. SCI is proud to count FDR among its leaders who have devoted their energies to the welfare of the working mariner.