avatarDavid Gerken


Teddy Roosevelt: My Favorite Quote from My Favorite President

It’s about integrity.

Image Wikicommons

I was blessed in the dad lottery, something none of us have any control over. Mine was a hard-charging, ambitious man who, frankly, had far from perfect attendance at my basketball games, track meets or tennis matches.

But what he did give me, and my five older siblings, was invaluable. Some would say it’s the most important thing a parent can give their child: Values. (I wrote an article about my dad that you can find here.)

He was a Fortune 500 CEO who came from little who taught us to treat others, especially those with little, with respect and dignity.

Recollections of my dad’s driver

I’ll never forget at his retirement party when his longtime driver, Ed Reguero, recounted the many times he had to drag my dad away from talking to elevator operators and parking valets, most of them Hispanic immigrants, at the posh California Club in downtown Los Angeles, because he was late for another meeting. He had a big heart, old Walter B. Gerken.

But the value he pressed on us that towered over all others was personal integrity. I remember numerous times throughout my childhood him telling me that he’d never cheated on my mom and that the main reason was that he never could have lived with himself if he had.

Cheating if you won’t get caught

The notion so many have of, “I’m in Chicago. There’s no way in Hell she’ll ever find out about it, so why not? Let’s have some fun!” That way of thinking, and living, was complete anathema to my dad. He never understood how people like that could live with themselves.

I have to say that it worked, too. His six kids, ranging in age from 59 to 70, have all led lives of high integrity.

So what does any of this have to do with my favorite quote from the Teddy Roosevelt? Everything.

Because it’s no coincidence that my number one TR axiom is about integrity. Here it is:

“I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do!”

Bullseye. This is what character is all about.

Roosevelt was an aristocratic Republican raised in the lap of luxury. He had private tutors, then prep school at Groton, college at Harvard and law school at Columbia.

But throughout his political career, if he saw something he thought was wrong, he did something about it. Whether it was fighting corruption as Police Commissioner of New York City or taking down the rapacious trusts and inciting the ire of powerful titans like JP Morgan while President of the United States, Roosevelt’s integrity forced him to act.

Integrity in the face of angry opposition

And it came at great personal peril. The wealthy class he belonged to despised him for his efforts and fought him at every turn. But he didn’t care what they thought of him.

He only cared what he thought of himself.

If only our politicians today would do the same thing. Do what? Look in the mirror, ask themselves if they approve of the actions taken by the person they’re looking at, then act accordingly.

It may not result in, as Louis Armstrong wrote, a wonderful world. But it would certainly be a better world.

The takeaway

So what does it all mean? Just what it says. Turn everything on yourself, live in ways that you feel good about and forget what everybody else thinks.

Just as it was with my dad and his kids, my number one priority with my kids, beyond showering them with as much love as I can muster, is to instill them with Roosevelt’s, and my dad’s, advice.

It’s the healthiest path out there.

Try my simple, free meditation program at davidgerken.net.

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