The Place to Find All Things Churchill

A Missed Opportunity at The College of William and Mary

The estate of Churchill’s literary agent still in limbo.

By Frank Shatz

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE, February 2012—In Wendy Reves’s last will it was stipulated that part of her multi-million dollar estate be used to create a permanent home for Churchill studies in the United States.
Emery-and-Wendy-RevesEmery and Wendy Reves
In acknowledgement of her generosity, Celia Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, sent a letter by Laurence Geller, Chairman of the Churchill Centre, to be read at Wendy’s memorial service in 2007, at the historic Wren Chapel on the campus of William & Mary College in Virginia.

“Wendy and Emery’s generous hospitality to my grandfather at LaPausa gave him so much pleasure toward the end of his life,” she wrote.

Indeed, it was the place where Churchill, as a guest, spent months at a time, for many years. Wendy’s often expressed her wish was to make certain that the legacy of the leadership of the great British statesman would be preserved in America through an endowed Churchill Library and a Center for Churchill scholarship. Thus, she designated part of her estate, for this purpose.

Alas, a protracted court battle over the validity of her will, a court case still pending, prevented the creation of such a center, which was contemplated to be established at the College of William & Mary.

Instead, according to a recent news release, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Laurence Geller, Chairman of The Churchill Centre, and Steven Knapp, President of George Washington University. They have agreed on the creation of a Churchill Library and Center on the campus of The George Washington University.

In a statement, Geller noted, “Undertaking this project with The George Washington University represent a milestone in the development of the Churchill Centre and of Churchill scholarship in America. The unique place that Winston Churchill holds in modern history as an icon of leadership and the respect his memory is accorded thorough the United States has long demanded the creation of a permanent home for Churchill studies, exhibitions and programs”

The planned facility, expected to open in stages between 2013 and 2015, is projected to cost $8 million. It will encompass four elements: an extensive library of books and other materials by and about Churchill and his times, an endowed chair in Churchill Studies, an endowed directorship of the Library and Center, and a customized exhibition space for permanent and traveling displays relating to Churchill.

The institute will present a continuing range of lectures, seminars, programs and exhibits for scholars, students and visitors. The released statement noted that the facility will afford teachers and students a unique opportunity “to learn about Winston Churchill and how his lessons of leadership are applicable to the challenges facing America and the world today.”

The National Churchill Library and Center will incorporate state-of-the-art digital technology to enhance its value to educators, scholars and students and will interact closely with other schools at the University, such as the Elliot School of International Affairs, and others.

The project at The George Washington University is being developed in collaboration and support of major Churchill institutions in the United Kingdom, including the Churchill War Rooms and Museum, Chartwell, Churchill’s family home, and the Churchill Archives Centre at the University of Cambridge, as well as members of the Churchill family.

No doubt, if Wendy Reves’ last will, would have been validated, William & Mary would have been high on the list of prospective candidates as the site of The National Churchill Library and Center.

An indication of the prestige such a designation would have commanded is the fact that Laurence Geller, Chairman of the Churchill Centre, was honored in the Queen’s New Year’s Honor List, as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The award was made in recognition of Geller’s “service to the Churchill Centre and for charitable and humanitarian work internationally.”

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette. ©All rights reserved, The Virginia Gazette.

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