International Churchill Society Chairman Laurence Geller addressed the annual international conference
Washington, D. C., 28 October 2016
Writing in his memoirs, Sir Winston Churchill observed of the American people that “their national psychology is such that the bigger the Idea the more wholeheartedly and obstinately do they throw themselves into making it a success.” Nearly fifty years ago, a small group of enthusiasts came together to compare notes on postage stamps bearing Churchill’s likeness. Only a few months before he died, Sir Winston’s son Randolph gave his blessing to this newly formed organization. Thus the International Churchill Society was born.
Today, as we gather for our thirty-third international conference, we count more than three thousand members and two-dozen chapters worldwide. Our journal Finest Hour has been published continuously since 1981. We have hosted royalty, leading politicians, journalists, authors, captains of industry, and renowned scholars—many of whom have not only spoken at our events but have contributed to our journals. Above all, we earned our reputation as the go-to organization for anyone, be it idle amateur or famed academic, with an interest in the life and legacy of Sir Winston.
Our website is visited each year by more than one-and-a-half million people, and we are bringing other Churchill websites into our fold as we work towards our goal of at least four million sessions annually. And while our online monthly, the Chartwell Bulletin, has today more than 30,000 subscribers, our ambitious target of 100,000 subscribers is within our sights. Daily we connect with thousands more through our continuously strengthening social media platforms.
Even more importantly, we have made it possible for high school students around the world to have free access to the Churchill Archives Online and to use the related and constantly updated, bespoke learning modules. Already some 1000 schools have signed up in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—and we are only just beginning. Concurrently, we continue to promote the teaching of Churchill’s legacy in schools both through locally organized seminars free to teachers and students and by making attendance at our conferences free to these same eager minds.
We have improved as an institution, have professional staff, and are able to pay for quality contributions to our journals and conferences. Our milestone merger with the American Fund for the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms in London solidified this growing professional identity, broadened our base, and firmed up our finances.
In 2013 we donated a bust of Sir Winston for permanent display in the halls of the United States Capitol building and organized an unveiling ceremony at which the Secretary of State and all four Congressional leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, publicly affirmed their admiration for the most important person of the twentieth century
Yet despite these many achievements, we were at a disadvantage. The UK is blessed with a plethora of physical assets that help to keep the memory of Sir Winston alive. The Churchill War Rooms and Museum in the heart of London, Chartwell, Blenheim, Bletchley, The Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge: all of these splendid facilities protect Churchill’s legacy in the UK for each new generation to discover. However, within the US, only physical asset is the National Churchill Museum located on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton Missouri, the site of Winston Churchill’s 1946 Iron Curtain Speech. This Museum was part of a separate organization and needed more support to expand its reach and attract more visitors. Without a significant platform here in Washington to educate succeeding generations and inject the lessons of Churchill’s example into the mightiest corridors of power, interest in Churchill would wane, aging would take its inevitable toll, and we would simply fade into obscurity, our duty to Churchill’s legacy unfulfilled.
So, in the depth of the global economic crisis that began in 2008, I developed a plan for the future to be accomplished by 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s death. I presented this ambitious but much needed plan to our Patron, the wonderful and wise Lady Soames and to her nephew, the always uplifting Winston, Churchill’s namesake grandson whose belief in the need for a permanent home in Washington to preserve his grandfather’s legacy never wavered. Both gave complete and unconditional support, pragmatic advice, and endless encouragement. Their deaths, Winston in 2010 and Mary in 2014, were devastating blows and made clear that time was not on our side. Early last year we endured yet another heavy loss with the death of the dean of all Churchill scholars, Sir Martin Gilbert, a passionate supporter of our bold plan, which he called “our lifeblood.”
As Churchillians, we know that inspiration can always be found in the words of our hero: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never.” I will admit, however, that those three deaths, the economic downturns which affected our financial situation, and the daunting challenge we had set ourselves, meant that there were times when I had to fight to keep Churchill’s infamous black dog at bay.
To use yet another Churchillian expression, though, I KBO’ed: kept buggering on. Other members of the Churchill family provided their own support, help and encouragement—the always energetic and uplifting Celia Sandys and her sister, that wonderful artist Edwina Sandys, and of course the irrepressible and continuously generous Randolph Churchill, who, it gives me enormous pleasure to announce, has graciously and selflessly taken on the added repsonsibilities of being president of the International Churchill Society. We will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude we owe and will owe to the incredibly hardworking and supportive Churchill family who, despite having their own busy lives and large families, always graciously give so much of themselves to our organization. It is a testament to what we are achieving today that so many more hard working family members are joining committed to our cause including, Mary Soames eldest son, Sir Nicholas Soames MP and Randolph’s three siblings Jennie, Marina, and Jack, all three of whom have accrepted roles within our organization
And so we pushed forward and now at last can see the “sunlit uplands.” We have in fact achieved far more than our original plan envisioned. We have made it more certain than ever that the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill will continue to be widely known and appreciated throughout the world.
Now thanks also to the hard work, creativity, and persistence of both Jean-Paul Montupet and Dr. Benjamin Akande, as well as the support of both Edwina Sandys and that wonderful Churchillian, Dick Mahoney, we are at long last rightfully merging with the National Churchill Museum of the United States at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Our combined strengths are truly the classic case of 2+2 equaling at least 6!
We have come a long way, and we have reached an important milestone. To mark this time of change, we are making some name changes as well. From this moment, we shall once again be known as the International Churchill Society (ICS). To increase our name identification with non-members, the Chartwell Bulletin will be renamed the Churchill Bulletin beginning with the next issue. We have a new logo emblematic of a fresh tomorrow. And tomorrow, after decades of wishful thinking, we will officially open our National Churchill Library and Center on the campus of the globally respected George Washington University. This long awaited event could not have happened without the support of two successive GW presidents who are both great friends of ICS, Stephen Trachtenberg and particularly, Steve Knapp, whose wisdom, patience, perseverance, and spirit will make him forever a revered Churchillian. ICS will both intellectually and financially support, advise and coordinate the work of the two US Churchill institutions, The National Churchill Library and Center and The National Churchill Museum, and it will ensure that these two sister institutions not only cooperate to promote the memory of Winston Churchill in North America but flourish together far better than each could do on their own.
ICS will now be based in our purpose-built facility—the NCLC, to introduce a new acronym. There we will welcome readers, writers, researchers, scholars and the just plain curious to explore the life and legacy of Sir Winston Churchill using a growing and unique archive of documents, books, and electronic media. The collection will expand. Exhibitions and high-profile events will be organized. From here our flourishing journals will continue to be published. The NCLC will make meaningful and original contributions to Churchill studies. Symposia, lectures, and debates will always be happening. Links to our sister institutions in Britain and Fulton will provide opportunities for sharing exhibitions and events. In short, the NCLC will be the epicenter for all Churchill-related activities. Churchillians throughout North America will finally have their permanent home, one not only linked to the historical venue of Fulton but situated here in the very heart of the most important of all the world’s capitals. This new home—our home—adjacent to Foggy Bottom’s State Department, is only a few minutes walk from the White House, where I am happy to say a much-admired bust of Churchill continues to stand—as it has stood now for the last fifty years—in the private quarters of the First Family.
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, after nearly a fifty-year start, the end of the beginning. At long last, we now have the tools and must look to the future. Our plan sets out one of those Big Ideas that Churchill understood could completely captivate the minds of the American people and bring out their creative and energetic powers.
Here in Washington we are surrounded by venerable and venerated institutions of study including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute.
We are passionate in our commitment that within five years the NCLC will stand tall amongst these institutions and be globally recognized and respected as a facility that supports research, discussion, and new thinking in methods of leadership, global citizenry, statesmanship, and the resolution of conflict.
With the example of the last century’s supreme statesman as their guide, the fellows of the NCLC will have a growing and influential impact in these fields. Policy makers will come to the NCLC for guidance and advice, and we will promote the healthy exchange of ideas through forums and even presidential debates. As we have seen again and again in the many crises that have beset our still young century, in times of trouble people look to the example of Winston Churchill.
We now have a strong cadre of leadership from a new generation of Churchillians and led by our new President, Randolph Churchill. Known simply as Tomorrow’s Group, they are pushing us forward with fresh energy, dynamism and vitality. They make us financially, intellectually and generationally self-sustaining and I stand in bewildered awe of all that they do, and will bring, to our organization.
Fundraising is a permanent fact of life in growth organizations such as ours. Although we have raised millions thus far from many generous and supportive donors, we constantly need to be reaching further afield for more funds to support both specific and general programs. Your help, connections, and ideas are always welcome.
Now you may ask, what are our aims? They are of course victory—victory at all costs. And this is what our victory will look like:
- We will establish the NCLC/ICS as THE authority on the life, lessons, legacy, and relevancy of Sir Winston Churchill
- We will make the NCLC/ICS THE place to go to for research into leadership, statesmanship, strategy, national and international purpose, and the protection of democracy and freedom
- And finally we will continue to carry out the mandate given to us by Churchill’s daughter and our late Patron: that the memory of Sir Winston Churchill be kept green and the record of his achievements accurate.
I know I should end with an appropriate Churchill quote, however I want to share with you the last lines from the Robert Frost poem that has always reminded me not only of the importance of our task but what still lies ahead on this grand adventure.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Before I relinquish this podium I must thank our Executive Director, Lee Pollock, who has been my hard working partner in this crusade for many years and wish him well. He has the gratitude and appreciation of us all. He and his ever fore-bearing wife, Jill, have decided that it is time to retire from this daily toil in the Churchill vineyard, while staying as an active advisor and member of the board. Lee is passing the torch to one of Tomorrow’s Group.
After a long and thorough search, GWU and ourselves selected from a field of wonderful candidates, a man who “ticks all the boxes” and has taken on the dual challenge of serving as both the first Director of the National Churchill Library and Centre and succeeding Lee as Executive Director of the International Churchill Society:
Michael F. Bishop
Michael is a longtime member of the Churchill Centre and comes to us from Strategic Investment Group, an institutional asset management company in Arlington, Virginia, where he served as chief of communications.
A California native, Michael was educated at the University of California at Berkeley, The George Washington University, and Georgetown University. He has extensive political experience, having served on Capitol Hill during the Clinton years and later in the White House during the administration of President George W. Bush. He was also executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and served as a consultant for the Stephen Spielberg film about the sixteenth president.
His reviews and articles on Churchill, the Great War, Lincoln, and other subjects regularly appear in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Review, and elsewhere.
Michael, will you please come up and introduce yourself to a truly magnificent audience of Churchillians, all of whom join me in wishing you every success.