To me, the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States is an event of historic proportion. No, I’m not referring to the ascendancy of an African-American to the presidency. No, I’m not inferring that this presidency is the second coming of Camelot. This inauguration is historic in another way. Barack Obama is our first president who is younger than I.

To me, the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States is an event of historic proportion. No, I’m not referring to the ascendancy of an African-American to the presidency. No, I’m not inferring that this presidency is the second coming of Camelot.

This inauguration is historic in another way. Barack Obama is our first president who is younger than I.

My entire life, I looked up to our presidents (like them or not). Not just in respect to their office, or to their ability to get elected to that office, but also because they were older. After all, I am of the generation that believes we should respect our elders.

I don’t include George W. Bush or Bill Clinton in this category. When someone is close enough in age to be your brother, his hasn’t earned that automatic measure of respect by virtue of age. But from the first Bush and earlier, I submit that each president elected in my lifetime deserved my attention and my respect. Their life tenure said so.

As a youth and as a young adult, I was comforted by the presence of our presidents. Perhaps it was a grandfatherly thing. There’s this thing about our elders that I can’t and don’t choose to shake. I like older people. I admire that they got to where they are, and I respect that they did what it took to get there.

Of course, I grew up influenced by the Greatest Generation. My parents, aunts, uncles and all their friends were of that generation. My brother and I, and all of our friends, were Baby Boomers. And now we are emerging as the older generation. Emerging very slowly, of course. Very slowly.

OK, so just how old have our presidents been?

We know JFK was the youngest elected president at 43. Teddy Roosevelt, however, was our youngest president. He was just 42 when he assumed the presidency upon the death of William McKinley, who was 58 when he was assassinated in 1901. Clinton was the second youngest elected president, at 46. Ulysses S. Grant is next in age, also 46. Obama comes in at 47, followed by my distant relative Grover Cleveland (my middle name is Cleveland, an old family name), who was almost 48 when he began his first term in office.

Three other presidents were in their 40s when they assumed office: Franklin Pierce (48); James Garfield (49); and James K. Polk (49). So of our 44 presidents (actually 43, but we count dear cousin Grover twice for serving nonconsecutive terms), nine were younger than 50 when they assumed office, and 35 were older. In fact, the average age of all of our presidents assuming office, leading up to Obama, is approximately 55. 

Of course, age is a relative thing. In the old days, we’re told, people didn’t live as long as now. Note that George Washington was 57 on becoming president, served two terms, and died at 67. But look at his successors: John Adams lived to 90; Thomas Jefferson was 83; James Madison made it to 84; James Monroe was a relatively young 73; and John Quincy Adams lived to be 80 (he died in 1848). And then something rather amazing happened. Not a single president lived to his 80s again until Herbert Hoover, who died in 1964 at 90.

Gerald Ford wore the distinction of longest-living president, dying at 93. Ronald Regan also lived to 93, but he was 45 days younger than Ford.

Where does all this take us? Nowhere in particular. It’s just fun playing with facts (and there’s a lot of entertaining presidential trivia out there). OK, so I’m no longer younger than our president. Big deal! Of course, if Hilary had just gotten that nomination. Or if McCain could have only won the election …

Scott C. Smith is the senior managing editor for GateHouse Media New England, based in the Plymouth, Mass., newsroom. He says he’s forever young. E-mail scsmith@cnc.com.