William vanden Heuvel dies. The Founder and guiding spirit at Four Freedoms Park

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Yesterday, June 15th, 2021, William vanden Heuvel died at his home in Manhattan. The cause was pneumonia, but in real time, the man’s legacy lives on. He’ll not simply be remembered, his spirit will be embraced.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

“We need the patience to prevail, the discipline to succeed, the courage to accept the challenge. The four freedoms have never been more relevant.”

William vanden Heuvel/The Four Freedoms

A child of immigrants, born during the worst of the the Great Depression, William vanden Heuvel never strayed far from being what we used to call “a flaming liberal.” From the time he listened to the president’s “fireside chats” until his death, he “championed President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of governance for the public good.

As the Roosevelt Institute, which he founded, noted in recognizing his death, “He ended every gala by leading the crowd in singing Happy Days Are Here Again.” It was Roosevelt’s theme song.

At the time of his death, at 91, vanden Heuvel was chair emeritus of two organizations in which he was a founder.

The Roosevelt Institute, a liberal American think tank carries forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, developing progressive ideas and bold leadership.

But for its sheer beauty, purpose and outreach, he’ll be best remembered for founding FDR Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Vanden Heuvel chased his dream of the park for forty years, but in the end, it arrived as a luminous tribute to FDR’s ideals.

His close partnership with Robert F. Kennedy, his service in the Carter administration and his legal career won’t soon be forgotten. But anyone strolling the park’s meadows, appreciating the tribute to freedom, will forever feel his presence.

FDR Bust - Four Freedoms State Park

William vanden Heuvel

“Above all Bill vanden Heuvel was a passionate advocate for remembering our history,” said Park CEO Howard Axel.

“Learning from it and coming out the other side as a stronger and more just United States mattered to him.

“From his work with Robert F. Kennedy, pushing through school desegregation in in Prince Edward County in Maryland to fulfilling Nelson Rockefeller & FDR Jr. ‘s vision of a memorial to the 32nd President on Roosevelt Island, Bill spent his life in service to the ideal of a more perfect union.”

Axel concluded, “He will be missed.”

But not forgotten.

William vanden Heuvel’s work in carrying out a legacy of freedom lives on. The passionate serenity of Four Freedoms State Park whispers to every passing visitor.

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