By John David Olsen
NEW YORK, 30 November 2010 – On Tuesday November 30th, the occasion of Winston Churchill’s 136th birthday, the Christmas decorations were sparkling in New York City and so were the glasses of Pol Roger. It was the very evening of the famous lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, with the entire City abuzz and in a festive mood.
At the request of New York Churchillians co-president Randall Baker, Tina Flaherty kindly agreed to hold this year’s birthday event at her penthouse overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Our hostess for the evening, New York Churchillian Ms. Tina Flaherty, was resplendent in red, including the “other” Winston which she brought out for the party—the Winston with the famous jewelry shop windows on Fifth Avenue.
The English Speaking Union of New York kindly agreed to co-host the affair along with the New York Churchillians.
Upon arriving at the penthouse door, we were greeted by Ms. Flaherty and her retinue of uniformed staff presenting silver trays of flutes filled with Sir Winston’s favorite sparkling variety. Our hostess took it seriously when Churchill said while visiting New York in 1931, “First things first. Get the Champagne.1”
Once this important business was handled, we were led upstairs to the drawing room and were greeted by Barbara Lopez, Executive Director of the New York Chapter of the English Speaking Union and her husband Richard. There was a celebratory buzz in the air and an excellent turnout of more than fifty in attendance to celebrate the great statesman’s birthday.
Guest of honor for the evening was the lovely Sophie Rachel Perkins, great granddaughter of the Prime Minister and daughter of The Hon. Celia Sandys and Mr. Kenneth Perkins. She is currently residing in New York City, completing her internship in the fashion industry. Ms. Perkins was accompanied by her boyfriend Mr. Freddie Garland, who is also currently doing a three month internship in New York, in the music business.
The guest speaker of the evening was the delightful and engaging Barbara Leaming, author of the just published Churchill Defiant: Fighting on, 1945-1955. Barbara’s account is of the final ten years of Churchill’s political life, from the time of his electoral defeat and loss the premiership in 1945, until his resignation from that same office in 1955—after having served for the second time as the Crown’s first minister. Barbara gave a lively twenty minute talk about her book and then addressed a few pointed questions.
Following Barbara Leaming’s talk, British actor Dudley Stone read several passages from Churchill’s famous speeches. His reading included part of Churchill’s 13 May 1940 speech to the House of Commons upon becoming Prime Minister:
“I hope that any of my friends and colleagues, or former colleagues, who are affected by the political reconstruction, will make allowance, all allowance, for any lack of ceremony with which it has been necessary to act. I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Once the evening’s talks and toasts had wrapped up, the party was led back to the entry hall, where we were greeted with a specially designed butter cream birthday cake in the shape of Blenheim Palace, the renowned place of Sir Winston’s birth and Seat of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Sophie was asked to do the honor of slicing the first piece and kindly obliged.
As Churchill was “…easily satisfied with the best2” he likely would have been quite pleased with how the evenings events unfolded.
1 Halle, Irrepressible, 117.
2 Langworth, Churchill By Himself, 532. Reportedly said by F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead about Churchill.