Averell Remembers His Father

PrintPrintEmailEmail

My father took all the family with him on his trips. We went down to Mexico a couple of times. And we went to Japan in 1905. It was an extraordinary experience, because I learned then of the violence of the Japanese. This was after the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Teddy Roosevelt was responsible for arranging the meeting at Portsmouth. The Japanese people were dissatisfied with the treaty. They thought they’d been sold down the river. They had demonstrations against the government people who were responsible. They burned down the foreign minister’s house; he had to climb over the back fence to get away. They were anti-American, and they demonstrated in front of the embassy. It was thrilling to me, a boy of thirteen. We had a detachment of Japanese soldiers in the embassy compound. I also remember that my father’s doctor and a friend were in a double rickshaw. The crowd, knowing they were Americans, threw rocks at them, and I still remember the big lump on the side of Dr. Lyle’s head when he came in. It’s funny how we remember details.

And did you go to Europe too?

We went to Europe a couple of times. My father had a very bad back. He thought he’d gotten it because, when he had been in Alaska, he shot a Kodiak bear, which is the biggest brown bear in the world, and he lay out on the ground, and his back had bothered him ever since. He went to Europe to try to get cured from that back trouble—unsuccessfully. But naturally I had a chance to see what was going on in Europe.

I went to Groton and then Yale. My father’s friend Endicott Peabody had me put down for Groton when I was born. Therefore, I got into Groton. Nobody except the godly got into Groton in those days. They have a more civilized approach today.

They even have girls there now.

Yes, which some say may have ruined it—I don’t know.

How do you account for the impact of Groton? So many people—beginning with FDR, yourself, Francis Biddle, Sumner Welles, Dean Acheson—went to Groton and became thereafter liberals, Democrats, and so on.

Dr. Peabody was the rector. He had very high ideals. He felt it was the obligation of everyone to serve his country and serve his community. He was terribly religious, of course. But service to whatever cause was at hand was one of the things he taught.

Groton was a school for the children of wealthy, patrician families. …

Well, it was true that it was. But they also got in people of lower income. I know my father gave them some money to pay for my tuition and also for the tuition of another boy. The boy was picked because he was of very low income, and he went through school as a result of the scholarship. My father felt that if I had the privilege of being in Groton, he ought to help somebody else be there.