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From Rockville Centre to the White House, Presidential historian returns to Long Island


“Everything that happens to me comes from Long Island,” former Rockville Centre resident Doris Kearns Goodwin said to a packed audience at the Tilles Center on March 23.

Goodwin, 75, is a historian and author notably known for her biographies of the American presidents. She personally met with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, writing his memoirs, and her book “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II” won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995. Goodwin has also been a guest on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and appeared in an episode of “The Simpsons.”

Goodwin grew up in Rockville Centre from 1943 until going off to Colby College in Maine. She received a doctorate degree in government from Harvard University.

At her event last month, dubbed “Leadership Lessons from the White House: Doris Kearns Goodwin on the American Presidents,” Goodwin lectured a crowd full of fans on what the presidency was like and cracked jokes along the way, keeping everyone smiling and laughing throughout.

She always thinks about the presidents, she said. Goodwin told of her numerous visits to the White House, including her time hanging out with former secretary Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. Goodwin tied the lesson together by comparing President Donald Trump’s term so far with those of Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

For example, she compared and contrasted Trump’s tweets to Lincoln’s “hot letters.” While everyone can read Trump’s venting on Twitter, which often sparks news debates, Lincoln’s hot letters, or angry letters, were never actually sent.

Though critical of Trump, Goodwin said she believes the United States is a great place to live. She advised during the program’s question-and-answer session after her speech that she believes that people must stay optimistic and get involved. Her new book, “Leadership: Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent Times,” is set to be released this fall.

Goodwin said her love for history came from her childhood in Rockville Centre. She and her father were big Brooklyn Dodgers fans and she adored hearing his stories about baseball. These tales sparked her love for storytelling, which then conceived her passion for history. “There’s something magical about this thing called history,” Goodwin said.

Her time in the village is included in her memoir, “Wait Till Next Year.”

“It was a great place to grow up in,” she told the Herald during a backstage interview. “You could hear the sounds of the screen doors slamming throughout the neighborhood. Somehow we found things to do outside all day long.” She said she loved going to the movies, eating black-and-white cookies at the nearby bakery, shopping in Hempstead and bowling on Friday nights.

“I loved South Side,” Goodwin added, recalling her teachers only as Ms. Austin and Mr. Jenkins, who she said was one of the first African-American teachers at South Side High School. They contributed to her love of history. She also recalls listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers play in the World Series over the loudspeakers, the boyfriends and fun times she had and especially Red and Blue, the school’s female-dominated competition that just celebrated its 102nd year. “You can imagine what it was like for us girls back then,” she said of Red and Blue. She was a captain for the Red team, and that year the teams tied.

She now lives in Concorde, Mass., which she feels is a similar community to Rockville Centre. It is the same dynamic to Boston as her hometown village is to New York City, she said.

“Don’t take Rockville Centre for granted,” Goodwin advised. “Looking back on it now, I realize how lucky I was.”