June 3, 2015

Tribute to Mary Soames

Address to the 32nd International Churchill Conference

By D. Craig Horn

I rise to pay tribute to our friend and our patron, Dame Mary, The Lady Soames. 

Lady SoamesLady Soames was “History’s Daughter” as proclaimed by Vogue magazine in August of 2012.  She took her responsibilities seriously and with aplomb, whether leading the 481 Battery in action at Hyde Park as a 20-year-old, or hosting a gala dinner party at the British Embassy in Paris (What Mary called “her posh life”) or Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, or dining with Roosevelt, Stalin or Truman, or accompanying her Papa on many of his travels.  She was also extremely proud to have chaired the National Theater where she got to know all of the cleaning ladies as well as the artistic aristocracy.  Mary met and dined with the greatest of the great.  In addition to Presidents, Czars and Kings, she was friends with Charlie Chaplin and Lawrence of Arabia, as Randy Barber and Laurence Geller, to name only a few of our own “glitterati.”

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Mary Soames was a great giver; a giver of time, talent, warmth and model.  Her commitment to Chartwell, the National Trust, the Churchill Memorial trust, the Churchill Archives Centre and the National Theater was critical to their very existence as well as their longevity. 

Most of us came to know Lady Soames as the Patron of The Churchill Centre.  She attended many, in fact most, of the International Conferences such as this and was always front and center.  “Please don’t treat me like an old lady,” she would say, firmly turning down almost all offers of assistance. 

Many of us have special and personal stories of Mary.  I urge you to take some time these few days together to share them and keep them green.  My personal favorite is from 2010 when Judy Kambestad hosted a special dinner at the Temple Bar overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  I found myself seated next to Mary.  As is the custom following dinner, the preprinted menus were passed among the guests to sign and keep as a memento of the occasion.  Like most Americans, I scrawled a few undecipherable lines on the menu and passed it to my right.  Suddenly, I received a startling blow to my shoulder, followed by one to my arm.  Mary looked at me sternly and admonished, “What is this, chicken-scratch?  People want to read your signature.  Now sign it properly.”  I have taken that admonition to heart ever since as I am now called upon to sign proclamations and certificates and unimaginable stacks of papers.

Whether climbing a sand-dune in the Sahara or traipsing up a steep walkway in the south of France, Mary was on the job, out front in the lead, and firmly in control.  She has kept us honest and suffered no assumptions.  She was an intrepid warrior and lived life at her father’s pace.

It is often said that an acorn cannot thrive in the shadow of a great oak.  She is proof to the contrary.  She has excelled as a writer, a historian and a public speaker.  She never sought the limelight.  She knew how to be the daughter of a great man and a keeper of a great legacy.

Mary once wrote to her father that it was hardly to be expected that her own family “should inherit your genius.  But I would earnestly hope that they may share in some way the qualities of your heart.”  Mary shared both the genius and the heart of Clementine and Winston Churchill.  There was nothing bashful or boastful in Mary’s person or spirit.  She told it like it was!  Her manners were impeccable and her faith steadfast.

Mary had no sense of entitlement, but we all thought her a Saint.  No one was ever too big or too small.  Her personal touches were sincere and warm.  She took great interest in education and visited schools around the world.  During many of those school visits she would sit at a student desk and take questions, all questions, any questions.  She would answer like a member of the family.

In 1998 our conference was held in Williamsburg, VA.  Mary was lodged in the historic Williamsburg Inn while the rest of us stayed nearby at a more modest hotel.  Mary was stern in her admonition, “Don’t ever again put me away from the people.”  Like her father, she trusted the people and wanted to always be among them.  She always insisted on standing in line with the rest of us.  “It is silly to make a fuss,” she would often say when we would go out of our way to treat her as the special treasure that she was.

As a Legislator and a Churchillian, I, like many of you all, am frequently asked, “What would Winston Do?”   In responding, we must recall the admonition of Mary – We don’t know what Winston Churchill would say or do.

But, we do know that Winston Churchill and Mary Soames stood on their principles.  And, among those principles are: Take Action and Achieve Results. 

As we go forward, let us remember Mary’s Rule: Keep the record accurate and the memory green. 

We here today shall forever remember Dame Mary, the Lady Soames, and we shall keep her memory green and hold her example dear.

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