By Robert Behre
THE POST AND COURIER, Monday, March 21, 2011 - They won't all be smoking cigars and wearing top hats -- in fact, maybe none of them will -- but some of the nation's greatest Winston Churchill devotees will gather here this week to talk about his life and legacy.
Kenneth Childs, a Columbia lawyer who is co-chairing the conference, said the meeting is being held here not simply because Charleston is an attractive city with several good places to eat.
One of Churchill's best American friends was the Wall Street financier and statesman Bernard Baruch, who resided part time at Hobcaw Barony, a plantation property outside Georgetown.
Churchill visited Baruch's coastal home once, and Churchill also visited Camp Jackson -- now known as Fort Jackson -- outside Columbia at the beginning of World War II, Childs said.
There he witnessed a large-scale paratrooper exercise. "I had never seen 1,000 men leap into the air at once," Churchill later recalled.
Childs, a self-described history buff, said he admired Churchill's influential roles in leading Britain not simply in World War II but also World War I. Churchill was Prime Minister of Britain from 1940-1945, and is credited with rallying his nation early in the war while his nation stood alone against the Nazis. He also served again as Prime Minister from 1951-55.
"The most important thing to emphasize is this is just not an organization focused on one individual who has been dead for 45 years," Childs said. "It's an organization that's interested in international affairs, politics and statesmanship. Churchill was a remarkable statesman."
The conference is entitled "Churchill in the News," partly because it will feature rarely seen Movietone footage of Churchill's life and times -- footage that is part of the University of South Carolina's collection.
Judy Kambestad of California is coordinating the 27th International Churchill conference and expects 200 to 250 to attend, including MSNBC anchor and political commentator Chris Matthews.
Like Childs, Kambestad said she got involved with the Churchill Centre, a nonprofit organizing the conference, because of her admiration for Churchill.
"He was the one who basically defeated Hitler. I think most people realize that, but they don't know much else about him," she said.
Churchill was more than a politician but also an accomplished journalist and painter. He also was among the 20th centuries most quotable leaders.
"When 9/11 happened, we have a hotline and we were flooded with requests for Churchill quotes," Kambestad said. "Even the president called and wanted some Churchill quotes."
While Churchill lost power shortly after World War II, he gave a highly influential speech in which he warned an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe -- an early description of the tension that would become known as the Cold War. When he died in 1965, the Queen of England granted him a state funeral.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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