John Allen Gable: Tribute By His Friends

Historians in the News

Edward Renehan, at his blog (1-20-05):

A good friend of mine, John Allen Gable - distinguished Theodore Roosevelt scholar and longtime executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, Oyster Bay, NY - is quite ill with cancer. Over the past two weeks, I oversaw an effort to collect tributes from his various friends. Bound into a small book on a fast schedule, these were presented to John on Tuesday. Hopefully the collected essays will prove good medicine. Contributors include David McCullough, Edmund Morris, Theodore Roosevelt IV, Tweed Roosevelt, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and others. I'm not free to reprint what other people had to say, but here is my entry:

Paul Theroux once wrote:"If a dream is pure enough, and the dreamer unselfish, the dream will come true." The modern, dynamic Theodore Roosevelt Association is very much the dream — the vision — that our friend John Gable had when he came into the executive directorship more than three decades ago: a dream now reality.

Ever since hearing of John's diagnosis a few days ago, I've had the tune"Onward Christian Soldiers" running through my brain. In fact, I haven't been able to get that old battleship of a hymn — so resoundingly associated with the Progressive TR, of whom John has written more eloquently than anyone — out of my head. John has always been a devout soldier for wisdom, reason, civility and truth. Now he is embarking upon a new fight, and doing so bravely and uncompromisingly, in an upright manner that surprises absolutely no-one who knows him well.

I first encountered John, his good-spirited exuberance, and the TRA eleven years ago during the summer of 1994. A member, Chris Volpe, had reviewed my John Burroughs: An American Naturalist in the pages of the Journal. In turn, John — whom I'd never met, and who'd gotten my address from Tweed Roosevelt — sent it round to me along with a note suggesting that I might want to join the Association.

I'd previously had only a nodding acquaintance with"the Tedheads" — a flirtation that involved my helping Bill Harbaugh and Tweed with some Burroughs-related research regarding the cabin at Pine Knot. Personally, I was at a crossroads. I'd just cashed in my chips in Manhattan after devoting five intense years to a successful publishing start-up. After relocating to coastal Rhode Island with my family, I looked forward to finally being able to give the bulk of my time to writing histories and biographies. I was up to my eyeballs in a book about John Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid, and was well ahead of any thought of writing anything at all with regard to Theodore Roosevelt. Nevertheless, John's genial invitation — combined with my childhood memories of growing up in Nassau County and making frequent, awed visits to Sagamore Hill with my history-loving father — made for a chemistry that caused me to dash off a check and sign up.

A year or so later, when I began to contemplate a book concerning Theodore Roosevelt and his family during the First World War, John led the charge of those encouraging me. (Bill Harbaugh, Jim Roosevelt — the inimitable P. James — and Tweed brought up the rear.) With some frequency, as I worked away on the project, the phone would ring and there would be John dishing up one more key anecdote or insight, or pointing out yet another obscure cache of papers that needed to be scrutinized. When I eventually had drafts, John read, critiqued, challenged and — when appropriate — applauded them. Then, as the book drew to a conclusion and I found myself still without an adequate title, he provided a great one, The Lion's Pride. Later on, John boosted TLP in print and in conversation with an almost missionary zeal. Talk about support.

I'm sure I'm not the first to notice that John has a way of luring people. During 1997, as I labored on TLP, he recruited me to co-chair the annual meeting of the TRA at Newport, RI, a stone's throw from my home. In '99 he recruited me again to speak at the 80th annual dinner in Norfolk, this just before he maneuvered me onto the Board of Trustees and then the Executive Committee. Part of the inescapable magnetism was Theodore Roosevelt, to be sure, but part was also John: his irresistible charm and his infectious (TR might have called it"strenuous") charisma. If I had the space here I'd rattle off a long list of names: accomplished and busy men and women who find themselves busier still thanks to John, all of them quite happily immersed in various TRA committees and projects. Each knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Last year, as John turned 60, Philippa Roosevelt solicited letters from his friends and colleagues to mark the occasion. I'm looking over what I wrote at that time."Dear John: Allow me, on the occasion of your 60th birthday, to express my profound gratitude for your help and friendship through the years. It is no wonder that the Roosevelt descendants and cousins love and are devoted to you. But I hope you realize the same can be said of your fellow TR scholars ..."

John, I consider it an honor to be counted amongst your numerous friends. You have made my life richer in more ways than one; and I am very glad I met you at the crossroads.

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