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Top Story:  Comptroller Loses Impromptu Footrace with President Theodore Roosevelt

01/17/2014

By Fleming Saunders
Public Affairs Operations

Imagine standing outside the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., and seeing the Comptroller of the Currency engaged in an impromptu footrace with the president of the United States. That happened one rainy day during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s.

Comptroller Lawrence O. Murray

Comptroller Lawrence O. Murray

The Comptroller, Lawrence Murray, was a tennis partner of President Roosevelt—part of his famed “Tennis Cabinet.” As the Boston Evening Transcript reported on November 21, 1910, one day Murray “arrayed himself in all the glory of a new tennis suit and hied [hastened] to the White House for a friendly game.”

But a sudden downpour came, and the president announced to Murray and two other aides/players that the court was too wet for a game. No matter. “Let’s take a walk,” suggested Roosevelt, the man nicknamed “Rough Rider” for his battlefield exploits during the Spanish-American War. To the astonishment of his national bank regulator, the president led the senior officials to the banks of the Potomac River, where the “mud often oozed up to their knees and the reeds closed over their heads like a jungle.”

According to the newspaper, that was just the start of the adventure with the (rarely) sitting president. Finding an empty “Government flat-boat moored at the bank,” the foursome rowed across the river, using a plank for an oar. Amid a “pelting storm,” they reached the “wilds of Virginia, where they tramped a couple hours.”

Returning to the city, the bedraggled crew approached the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, nearly a mile from the White House. The impetuous president yelled, “let’s run” and dashed off toward the White House. While the two other staffers kept up fairly well with the boss, Murray, who “had been ill and had taken almost no exercise for a year, dropped into a walk and dragged himself up to the White House about a half hour behind.”

Afterwards, Murray was asked what happened to his elegant tennis whites. The paper reported that the “Comptroller swung himself about in his slow, serious way as if he were about to excommunicate a bank president. ‘I gave it [the clothing] to the janitor at my apartments,’ he replied, ‘and he told me two weeks later that he couldn’t get it dry.’ ”

Last Updated: 08/09/2014