Michael F. Bishop Named Executive Director of International
Churchill Society and First Director of the National Churchill
Library and Center. Q & A with new Churchillian-in-Chief
Michael F. Bishop was named to succeed the retiring Lee Pollock as Executive Director of the International Churchill Society (ICS). Additionally, Bishop will also serve as the first Director of the National Churchill Library and Center (NCLC) located on the campus of The George Washington University. In making the announcement at the Thirty-third International Churchill Conference in Washington, D. C., Chairman Laurence Geller observed that Bishop was “a longtime member of ICS and comes to us from Strategic Investment Group, an institutional asset management company in Arlington, Virginia, where he served as chief of communications. He was also executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and served as a consultant for the Steven Spielberg film about the sixteenth president.”
A California native, Bishop was educated at the University of California, 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. 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. Bishop discussed his new appointments and his plans for the future in the following interview with the Churchill Bulletin.
CB: How did you come to be appointed the new Executive Director of the International Churchill Society and Director of the National Churchill Library and Center?
MFB: First of all, I am deeply honored by these appointments and am grateful to the board of ICS and the leadership of GW for having selected me. They had a field of very talented candidates from which to choose. My professional background is somewhat unusual in that it combines historical expertise with extensive political and private sector experience. That combination, along with the fact that I am a longtime member of the ICS, a student of Churchill, and resident of Washington, may have commended me to their attention.
CB: How are your responsibilities divided, and what will be the lines of authority for the two positions you now fill?
MFB: ICS and GW have concluded a formal agreement that calls for my time to be apportioned as follows: 60% for the NCLC and 40% for the ICS. As Director of the NCLC, I report to the Dean of the GW Libraries; as Executive Director of the ICS, I am answerable to the Executive Committee. Fortunately, we are all united in our desire to preserve the memory of Winston Churchill, provide to students and visitors an unparalleled example of leadership, and make the NCLC a success.
CB: What have been your first tasks?
MFB: I took up both posts on 24 October, and have already visited the United Kingdom to establish contacts with my British colleagues at Chartwell, the Churchill Archives, the Cabinet War Rooms, and ICS UK. Just before that we had our annual conference in Washington and grand opening of the NCLC—it’s been a whirlwind! I am fortunate to have an effective and long-serving team in place at the ICS and have been having important discussions with them. I look forward to David Freeman’s continuing editorship of Finest Hour. In John David Olsen, we have a creative hand guiding our online and social media efforts. And Justin Reash will continue to help with membership matters and conference planning during our transition to being a Washington-based organization.
CB: What changes can people now expect to see?
MFB: The biggest change members will notice in the short term is our new (or newly-restored) name. But soon, that name will adorn a new and improved website that will reflect our formal alliance with the superb National Churchill Museum in Fulton Missouri, and our closer collaboration with the British Churchill sites and institutions. And the content of our future conferences will change somewhat: rather than focusing solely on Churchill as a historical figure, we will spend time applying the lessons of his life and career to contemporary problems. This will help us keep Churchill fresh and relevant for a new generation, and allow us to draw on a wider range of speakers. I also hope to institute a closer and more collaborative relationship with our local chapters and to reinvigorate those that have ceased to be active.
CB: What are your immediate and long-term plans for the NCLC?
MFB: My immediate plans for NCLC are to begin a program of events that includes lectures, seminars, and debates featuring prominent speakers from both inside and outside the academy. This will raise the profile of the institution and suffuse it with a sense of vibrancy and excitement.
In the medium term, I plan to expand our collections—which are already impressive—and fashion a small exhibit space with artifacts and documents that will provide visitors with an immediate connection to Churchill. And the NCLC will become a headquarters of Churchill scholarship for those visiting Washington. We will not only share our own resources, but point scholars to the relevant collections at such institutions as the Library of Congress and the National Archives.
In the longer term, I want the NCLC to become not just a vital campus resource, but a major stop for scholars and leaders seeking to share and receive wisdom and guidance. With a location just five blocks from the White House, the NCLC will be the center of all Churchill-related activity in the United States.
CB: How do your previous experiences prepare you for the tasks at hand?
MFB: I am animated by my love of history, and my belief that those who ignore it are doomed to blindly stumble in the dark. Constant and omnivorous reading, and writing articles and reviews for major newspapers and magazines, have sharpened my critical thinking skills. And my years in politics and public history provided practical experience in public relations, event planning, and encouraging people of strong and disparate views to work together toward a common goal.
My father was born in Ireland near Castle Leslie, the home of Churchill’s relations, and my mother’s parents were born in Galway and Kerry. Most of my relations live in Ireland and the UK, and I feel quite at home in both places. I think this has given me further insight into Churchill’s complex life and career, and a head start in fashioning an alliance with our British partners.
And finally, I have studied, lived and worked in Washington for more than two decades, and have built up an extensive network that I will put to the service of both ICS and NCLC. I look forward to both institutions becoming an important, vibrant part of the intellectual life of the capital.
CB: What does Michael Bishop do when he is not immersed in running the Churchill empire?
MFB: I read books about Winston Churchill! But when I’m not doing that, I enjoy European travel, visiting museums, classical music, and art and literature. And I share with our hero a taste for good food and wine, especially Pol Roger!