Mourning Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, Board Chair Emeritus of the Roosevelt Institute

June 15, 2021

A visionary leader and advocate for Rooseveltian ideals


The Roosevelt Institute was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, our board chair emeritus, who passed away on June 15 at the age of 91.

Throughout his life, Ambassador vanden Heuvel championed President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of governance for the public good. He served as chair of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute from 1987 through the early 2000s. In 1982, he founded the Four Freedoms Awards in both the Netherlands and the United States. On October 17, 2012, the Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to President Roosevelt designed by Louis Kahn and located on Roosevelt Island in New York City, was dedicated, representing 40 years of effort by Ambassador vanden Heuvel. The Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park is also a testament to his vision and tireless support of the Roosevelt legacy.

The ambassador was a champion of the four freedoms and of the “Roosevelt Circle” of organizations dedicated to FDR and Eleanor’s legacy, and most importantly, he ended every gala by leading the crowd in singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” As he once wrote, “We need the patience to prevail, the discipline to succeed, the courage to accept the challenge. The four freedoms have never been more relevant.”

“Our leader—amazing, inspiring, and effective—has passed, and we will miss him. New York will miss him! He leaves a legacy of a purpose-driven life, and I am grateful for his devotion to my grandfather and the ideals he fought for,” said Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt Institute board chair.

The ambassador’s commitment to Rooseveltian ideals was forged early and was evident in his time working with Robert F. Kennedy and his service in the Carter administration. This commitment clearly runs in the family; his daughter, Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and former editor of The Nation, is on the Roosevelt Institute board as well. 

“From his Deep Springs boyhood to his towering presence as a champion of FDR, Bill vanden Heuvel influenced so many lives. My heart goes out to Melinda, Katrina, and his family. All of us at the Roosevelt Institute will miss his wit, optimism, and courage,” said Felicia Wong, Roosevelt Institute president and CEO.

Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, Roosevelt Institute Chair Emeritus, speaking at the FDR Library 75th Anniversary Celebrations on June 30, 2016
Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, Roosevelt Institute Chair Emeritus, speaking at the FDR Library 75th Anniversary Celebrations on June 30, 2016