This story originally appeared in The Inquirer on Jan. 4, 1999.

In their union, the knot of the 20th century was tied. Like the loops of a bow, their lives arced away from each other yet were bound at a vital center. Just when humanity needed it most, these two held a nation and a free world together.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt wed Eleanor, his fifth cousin once removed, in 1905. Life had prepared him for greatness. Her family life had been terrible (a mother who mocked her looks; a father rarely home), yet she already had become famous for her brilliance and her tireless public service (teaching dancing to slum dwellers; investigating labor practices in sweatshops).

We want marriage to be one thing, when it is almost always something else. Theirs is perhaps the most famous of our century - famous for both triumphs and disabilities. She learned of his affair with her social secretary, Lucy Page Mercer, in 1918. The Roosevelts separated after the First World War, reconciled and continued their public life. Polio felled FDR in 1921, and he went through years of depression, wandering and refusal to accept his state. It was Eleanor who kept up his interest in politics, championing him all the way to the White House.

He used many of her ideas and aspirations in designing the programs that would make up the New Deal. Some programs, such as the National Youth Administration, she all but ran personally. Others, such as Social Security, reflected the grand idea the two Roosevelts sincerely shared: that the country’s people were great enough to shoulder any challenge together.

Each of the 10 presidents since Roosevelt has claimed his mantle. Which means each has claimed hers, too.

He was the grand figurehead a depressed nation needed. His image depended on some brilliant public lying. Furiously gripping each podium at which he stood, he radiated good health, when, in fact, he could neither stand nor walk much, having been permanently weakened by polio. In his weekly ``fireside chats,’’ he was the first president to use broadcast media to forge a constituency nationwide. (Likewise, in 1933, Eleanor became the first president’s wife to hold her own press conferences.) A rich patrician through and through, he was open-eyed enough to see that the poor and the marginal needed help if they, and the nation, were to see their way through.

It has often been said that FDR was fortunate a world war came along to end the Depression; it’s also true that in FDR, America had a powerful personality on a par with Stalin, Churchill and Hitler. His dozen years in the presidency took a toll. In 1945, he was running one of the highest blood pressures ever measured in a human being. Thus came his fatal stroke four months before the atomic bombs fell.

I once asked a huge, old man whether he ever cried. He was black, stalwart, someone I really admired. He said, ``The last time I cried was when Franklin Roosevelt died,’’ and his eyes welled up there and then. Those standing by chimed in: They remembered where they were, what they were doing. ``It was like one of your parents dying,’’ one said.

Many also remembered where they were when Eleanor died in 1962. When Adlai Stevenson said, ``What other single human being has touched and transformed the existence of so many?’’ he was talking about Eleanor, not FDR. Civil rights is one of her enduring legacies. Harry Truman, who would later dub her ``The First Lady of the Western World,’’ appointed her as representative to the United Nations, where she became a decisive force behind the formulation of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. She helped create UNICEF and worked for the rights of women, minorities, workers and children throughout the world.

Ninety-four years after the Roosevelts married, we are still encountering their ideas and ideals.

We read their story with unease. Neither was a saint; both were heros. They remind us that there is love of all sorts. Theirs seems to have become a diminished regard, affection tempered with a clear-eyed view of the other, an admiration, a reliance on the other’s wisdom. Such partnerships can persist even when trust is withheld, full intimacy denied. They can endure, evidently, next to disappointment and disillusion.

These two worked together though sundered. Couples can work out new ways of doing things, look past great pain to make something lasting. These two did. They were partners in remaking the world. Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt showed how a couple can become a century.