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Eleanor Roosevelt's granddaughter on what she was like outside the spotlight

The granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the famous first lady remembered her warmth and serenity, and shared what it means to carry on her legacy.
/ Source: TODAY

Eleanor Roosevelt was a groundbreaking first lady who was everything from a United Nations delegate to a newspaper columnist, but Anne Roosevelt affectionately knew her as "Grandmere."

As part of a TODAY series speaking with the granddaughters of famous 20th century women, Anne Roosevelt and her niece, Tracy Roosevelt, talked with Jenna Bush Hager on Tuesday about carrying on the first lady's legacy and what she was like outside of the spotlight.

Eleanor Roosevelt became a prominent figure as the longest-serving first lady in history from 1933-45, and she took a particularly public role after President Franklin D. Roosevelt became disabled from polio.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was remembered by her granddaughter and great-granddaughter for her legacy as a first lady, an American diplomat, humanitarian and author. Oscar White / Getty

"I think she was very humble, and so I think that she thought, 'Why me? Why am I going to be in the spotlight now?'" Tracy Roosevelt said. "But at the same time, she cared about people, and so she wanted to do the thing she did, like going to tenements and talking to people who were in poverty and meeting with women like she had done in New York who were working in factories. And she did some of the traditional hosting duties at the White House, but some of them her daughter took over. And I think that worked perfectly for her."

Anne Roosevelt, who is one of Franklin and Eleanor's 29 grandchildren, also recalled the quiet moments with her grandmother, whether it was sitting in her lap or watching her from across the room.

"I remember seeing her, just by herself, and she'd be knitting, just under a single lamp and that she seemed so serene to me," she said.

The first lady also wanted to know what mattered to her grandchildren.

"She would always say, 'What are you curious about?'" Anne said. "She put a lot of stock in being curious."

Eleanor's life is about to be part of a Showtime anthology series that will star Gillian Anderson as the famous first lady. Anderson, who recently played the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the hit Netflix series "The Crown," will portray life in the White House through the perspective of the first lady.

"I hope that they capture her warmth and her humor, her smile, and her enjoyment of people," Anne Roosevelt said about the series. "I hope they don't make her seem, you know, austere.

"She wasn't an austere grandmother and even in just in public, she was serenity, and loved people."

Tracy Roosevelt is Eleanor's great-granddaughter, and she can still remember the pride her father, James Roosevelt II, took in reading his grandmother's daily newspaper column.

"My dad is an avid reader of the newspaper and Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a column called 'My Day,' and he would read that column in the newspaper, any chance he got," Tracy said. "He just thought that everyone kept in touch with their grandmother by reading about her in the newspaper, reading her column in the newspaper."

Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations General Assembly Building
Eleanor Roosevelt is shown as a member of the U.S. delegation listening to the proceedings at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947.Bettmann Archive

Tracy has also followed in her great-grandmother's footsteps as an attorney specializing in United Nations and humanitarian causes. Eleanor Roosevelt was a delegate to the newly created United Nations and became the first chairperson of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1946.

"I was 15 when my father took me to the United Nations for the opening of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Tracy said. "That made me think, you know, there is something larger that we can be part of and we can work towards peace."

"I would love (Eleanor) to know Tracy's generation of children because they are growing up to be such a beautiful young people, all of them focused on helping someone else, helping the world be a better place, making our democracies stronger, fairer, more just," Anne said. "They're a spectacular group of people."

The two women also believe that Eleanor Roosevelt, a proud civil rights champion who died at 78 in 1962, would have supported last year's mass protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

"She would be very proud of the Black Lives Matter movement, the consistency and the repeatedly coming back and saying again, 'This has got to be repaired,''' Anne said. "America has to live up to what we say we are. She said that so often in speeches, that now is the time that we have to start living up to what we say we are. And she'd be out there on the front lines."