I was a chauffeur for the Roosevelts

Published 6:06 pm Tuesday, July 4, 2017

In the spring of my senior year in high school the guidance counselor asked if I would be interested in interviewing for a chauffeur position at a local estate about 7 miles north of my home.

That sounded intriguing so the next Saturday morning I was welcomed at the Highlands; the estate of Mr and Mrs Nicholas Roosevelt.

The long half-moon pea gravel driveway, the large Georgian mansion, black and white checkered tile foyer which was huge and the library where I was interviewed immediately impressed me.

You can Google “The Highlands Mansion and Garden” to see the 1796 house, two-acre formal gardens and various out buildings including a greenhouse situated on 44 acres in Fort Washington, PA. Miss Caroline Sinkler purchased Highlands In 1917 and sold it to her niece Emily in 1941.

Nicholas Guy Roosevelt was born in 1883 in Morristown, New Jersey and died in 1965. Emily Wharton Sinkler Roosevelt was born in Belvedere, South Carolina in 1884 and died in 1970. Nicholas was supposedly related to Teddy and/or Franklin but I have not verified either.

Let me know at jeffwarnerbrown@gmail.com if you find anything. Suffice it to say the Nicholas Roosevelts lived a very different lifestyle than I had.

I recall Mrs Roosevelt saying in the interview that “I wouldn’t be paid much but I would learn culture;” curious what we remember decades later.

The people that I met, conversations, parties that I took them to or that were held at the Highlands indeed added to my “culture.”

There were a maid and cook from Ireland who lived in the “servants quarters” where I also had a bedroom and bath.

Patrick, a farmer from Ireland lived on the property with his family and in another house on the property Archie, a gardener from Scotland, lived with his family. Additionally there was an assistant gardener that drove in each day.

Since chauffeuring didn’t take all my time I worked with all of these people doing a myriad of things.

That included driving the tractor while Patrick worked the tiller, milking cows, bailing hay which was the hottest job I ever had, picking vegetables, working in the boxwood/flower gardens,  preparing and serving the Roosevelts breakfast consisting of soft-boiled eggs, toast, coffee and juice each Wednesday when the maid and cook were in their apartment in Philadelphia that the Roosevelts paid for and arranging flowers with Mrs Roosevelt to name a few.

The chauffeuring included taking Mrs Roosevelt shopping, driving them to Cape May New Jersey where I got some beach time while they visited and taking the daughter of the UN Ambassador (I think that was his title) to the airport.

The most awkward ride was when Mrs Roosevelt invited my mother to an evening performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Robin Hood Dell.

I was impressed with how well my mother handled that including Mrs Roosevelt buying a cup of ice cream and sharing it with her!

Philadelphia, at least in 1959, had a very defined/restricted listing of high society. I often took either or both to the estates of these people.

After taking them to the main entrance, I’d drive around the back to join the other chauffeurs. There I was at age 18 with a crew cut and an ill-fitting Jacob Reed chauffeur suit and hat among much older men.

As you might imagine that made for long periods of being ignored but occasionally some interesting conversations. The same people who entertained the Roosevelts were frequent guests at the Highlands.

Occasionally they were entertained by an ensemble from the Philadelphia Orchestra or speakers on various subjects. I served as bartender and server at elaborate dinners in my white coat. The final article about this unusual job will include their Moncks Corner, SC  estate; Mr Roosevelt; swimming pool ideal date place; and how I wish I had been more inquisitive.

Jeff Brown is a retired Georgia state representative where he served as chairman of the House Health Appropriations Committee.