May 24, 2013


THE CHURCHILL CENTRE’S benefit dinner in Chicago November 8th honored Tom Brokaw for lifetime achievement in journalism. Emery Reves would have been proud.


The Churchill Centre’s proud mission is to foster leadership, statesmanship, vision and boldness among democratic and freedom-loving peoples worldwide through the thoughts, words, works and deeds of Winston Spencer Churchill. As its cochairman of Trustees I wish to say how very delighted we were to welcome and honor particularly one of our nation’s most respected journalists, authors, citizens, and ommentators: Tom Brokaw of NBC News.

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I can’t personally think of a more worthy recipient of the Emery Reves Award—which we bestow only periodically— than Tom. All of our Trustees and Governors were most grateful for his willingness to be with us. On behalf of the City of Chicago, I was proud to welcome everybody who travel far to be with us at the second award event we’ve hosted in this virbrant city. And as Chief Executive of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, owners of the Intercontinental Hotel, we were privileged to be the sponsor of this significant event and I hope we continue to do so for years ahead.

There are so many to thank—my friend Celia Sandys, Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, the inimitable Chirs Matthews, FH editor Richard Langworth: all of them fellow Trustees. And Mary Ellen Viskocil, my partner and colleague, please stand! I have a request from everyone here: Could you please lose their phone numbers?

It is my privilege merely to convey some of the words spoken on November 8th, which I can best do by referring to the transcript, which will be published in full in Churchill Proceedings 2004-2005. —Laurence Geller

Mr. Geller is Cochairman of the Churchill Centre’s Board of Trustees and President and CEO of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, Chicago.


Churchill—his words explais why I like him so much: “All the years that I’ve been in [the House of Representatives —I’m sorry] the House of Commons, I’ve always said to myself one thing – ‘Do Not Interrupt.’ I’ve never been able to keep to that resolution.” Neither have I.

When he turned sixty, Franklin Roosevelt said Churchill, “It is fun to be in the same decade with you.” Tonight we share the delight in being in the same language with him, with respect for who he was and what he did.

More than thirty years ago I remember standing down in the stacks at the Library of Congress staring at a volume entitled Winston Churchill: A Study in Failure. As the great man himself might say: “Some study—some failure.”

There were failures along the way. A great leader, he was not a perfect politician. He was certainly no “Slick Winnie.” What he did of course was save the honor of the twentieth century.

Tonight we share the honor of Churchill’s legacy with a man who is perhaps the most accomplished journalist of our time. Among his many accomplishments was to cover the fall of the Iron Curtain, to which Churchill had given its name. And through his books on the Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw gave a name and a distinctive recognition to the generation who fought for the cause to which Churchill gave so much of his spirit.

Historians are increasingly prized today because so much of our history seems to fade for so many people. If you talk about something that was ten years ago, they think you are talking about some sort of planetary existence far from their own experience. We have today one of the young, great historians of our time, Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Tulane University, director of the Roosevelt Center there, the author of many fine books, including The Boys at Pointe du Hoc, about the heroes of Normandy; and biographies of Franklin Roosevelt and the first secretary of defense James Forrestal. Douglas.


I came to know Tom Brokaw in a personal way, on the periphery, thanks to my late friend Stephen Ambrose, who was director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans. Tom became very excited by Steve’s project of interviewing people, making oral histories of veterans. Ambrose used to say, wouldn’t it have been great to have a tape recorder during the Civil War? Tom recognized that nobody was writing about the so-called greatest generation, the World War II veterans. We had a lot of books on Churchill, Roosevelt, Patton and Montgomery—but what about everyday people and their extraordinary stories?

In 1994 Steve and Tom Brokaw went to Normandy in and in 1998 Tom published The Greatest Generation. Steve read the galleys and said the book was going to change the way Americans perceive their veterans. And it did. Whether you live in Illinois or Oregon or Connecticut, whether in an urban center or a village, you had a hero or heroes or heroic people in your community.

It wasn’t just the book. Tom Brokaw followed it with many spots on television, that precious network news time, giving voice to these people. And it wasn’t a stunt. It came directly from Tom’s heart, and gave pride to those veterans who had been so self-effacing for so long. Young people started recognizing that their grandfathers, their grandmothers, had a role in this heroic effort of defeating Nazism and the Japanese fascists.

The greatest generation spent the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies raising their families and being patriotic citizens. They never felt quite right to tell their story, until Tom came and gave them that opening. And because of that, I want to thank Tom for being one of the truly great historians of our time. He is such a familiar face we associate him with NBC News, and rightfully so. But I believe that decades from now, centuries from now, The Greatest Generation will rank as one of the profound literary and historical accomplishments since 1945. So I just want us to raise a toast to Tom.


I’m extremely grateful toThe Churchill Centre, my friend Chris Matthews, Celia Sandys, and all the honored guests who are here tonight, especially Douglas Brinkley for those extremely, dare I say excessively generous, words.

My association with the group I call The Greatest Generation has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. People challenge my title, but my reply is always: “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” The longer answer is that this is a generation that came of age with all the depredations and uncertainty of the Great Depression. Just as they were beginning to emerge from that dark and difficult time—when they left school to put food on the table, when they shared shoes and clothing and automobiles—they were summoned by their President, and by the man we honor tonight, to go thousands of miles across seas to defeat the two most formidable military machines that had ever been assembled. And they did just that.

I am particularly pleased to be included in this august company because, as so many of my generation, I was raised on the Gospel according to Winston Churchill. My early memories are formed by newsreels of him coming to see his friend in the White House, or hearing his voice on radio, exhorting his country and the world in elegant language and a lion’s roar to stand firm against the onslaught of fascism. There is so much to admire about Winston Spencer Churchill, and in this room of students of him I shall not review his CV. But I will say that what always impressed me most was his commitment to the arena: his lifelong passion about the issues of his time, in war and in peace, in power and out: his Falstaffian appetite for discourse, food, wine, brandy, art, and most of all to personal commitment to freedom for mankind. He could write at greater length with more elegance after an evening of champagne and brandy than most historians can write after years of study.

I appreciate most of all Churchill’s ceaseless effort to rally the like-minded and the skeptics to the cause of freedom and moral courage. His union with his aristocratic soulmate FDR, one a Tory, the other a liberal, was a stroke of fortune for free men and free women for which we should all be forever grateful. Together they understood that there are times when common cause and common ground are a much higher calling than narrow, selfish, ideological pursuits—which leads me to some observations on the current conditions of the American political arena.

It is, and I worry, in a troubling condition, a frayed construct rewired to short circuit the general welfare, diverting power and influence to the special interest; moreover, at the national level, the system is all but closed except to those who are encoded with specific DNA.

Is this hyperbole? I don’t think so. Consider the current shorthand for describing the vital signs of the national political culture: red state, blue state, separate and unequal. The operating strategy for both parties is to divide and conquer, to alienate and belittle the beliefs of the other, to suppress any discussion of common ground or common purpose, to conduct campaigns that are heavy on character assassination and light on unconventional thinking or iconoclastic candidates.

I’m not naive; I’ve been at this for more than forty years. Politics has always been a rough trade. But the place and influence of narrowly cast single interest organizations, and the amount of money that is now available, has infused too much of our media, present company included, where the best and brightest in this society may wonder, “is this a noble calling for me?” Moreover I would suggest that all of this is happening just at the time where the challenges of the country require more common ground, not less.

As Winston Churchill reminded us in every decade of his life, public service is not simply an honorific—it’s a responsibility. Politics is a two-stroke engine: win the election and then govern, be accountable, victory is a due bill, it should be paid in full by governing for all, not just for a select few.

There was a time not so long ago in this country, in a setting not so different from the one we are enjoying here this evening, when the informal discussion would have been about the call to public service. Do those discussions go on now? In classrooms, ivory towers, boardrooms, laboratories, law offices? If they do the dialog is faint and short.

The country is interested in solutions; it longs to be involved in a meaningful way in its own destiny. During a critical time in the history of mankind Winston Churchill gave hope and leadership to that calling. In this country the greatest generation by sacrifice and commitment also gave hope. So I believe it is time for all of us to carry on the legacy of the Greatest Generation, by re-enlisting as citizens to reclaim the greatest political system that has ever been envisioned from the zealotry of the entrenched. It is time to ignite a citizen’s crusade, if you will, against too much money, too many narrow interests, too little common ground, too much exclusion from the common arena. It’s time for us to make a stand, so that a hundred years from now, someone can stand at this hall and say that they, too, were a Great Generation.


I am delighted to have been invited to speak to tonight. Emery and Wendy Reves were an important part of Winston Churchill’s life for many years, first when Emery was representing my grandfather’s literary interests, and later when he and Wendy put La Pausa, their beautiful house in the south of France quite literally at my grandfather’s disposal. He spent many months there, and he used it at will and his family and friends spent a lot of time there too. I first went to La Pausa in 1968 and remained friends with Wendy ever since.

I had to have a Churchillian nap this afternoon, because I was up half the night reading a new book called Do Not Disturb, by Laurence Geller. He swears it’s not biographical but I can tell you it’s a wonderful, wonderful read about the hotel business and you’ll never look at a hotel in the same light again when you’ve read it. I thoroughly recommend it, and I thank Laurence for all he has done for The Churchill Centre, and to make this night possible.

My grandfather would surely approve of this award to Tom Brokaw. If they had ever met they would certainly had a great deal to talk about. They both paid their bills by journalism and authorship. When sending some money to a widow of a Boer War casualty who had helped him escape as a prisoner of war, Churchill wrote: “I’m sorry I cannot send more but I have to earn everything I spend.” I have to say he was very good at spending. And earning.

Like Tom, my grandfather was always center stage, his influence ranging over the important domestic and international topics of the day. He lived, as he, himself said, “from hand to mouth.” I have no idea how the financial rewards of television journalism compare with those of the written word in the first half of the last century, but I trust it has not left you, Tom, wondering whether you will have to sell your house in order to balance your books. That was a prospect that my grandfather faced when his wartime job rendered him nearly bankrupt!

Winston Churchill used radio to good effect. Like Tom, his several careers were all based on brilliant communication. But nowadays we cannot imagine living without television.

I only once saw my grandfather watching it. I think, looking around the room, that quite a number of us can remember exactly where we were on the day that President Kennedy died. I was with my grandfather. We watched it all on television. As we sat there, the tears poured down my grandfather’s face. On that day he certainly responded with strong emotions to the power of television. He would have certainly been moved if he could have watched the coverage of his own funeral a year and two months later.

I believe that Winston Churchill and Tom Brokaw would have found a lot in common.




Michael Bebon, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Laurence Geller, Secretary Jack Kemp, Ambassador Paul H. Robinson, Jr.,


Norm Bobins, Fred Cook, Andrew Cosslett, Alvin Dworman, William R. Fatt, Richard Fisher, Marcus & Molly Frost, Philip Gordon, Michael Madigan, Todd Samman Michael J. Scully, Jonathan Tisch, Davis Weinstock.


The Honorable Celia Sandys


Michael Bebon, Land America; Laurence Geller, Strategic Hotels & Resorts; Phil Gordon, Perkins Coie; Todd Samman, Deutsche Bank


Rick Weisman, Goldman Sachs; Stuart Rothenberg, Goldman Sachs; Arthur Adler, Jones, Lang, LaSalle; Jonathan Tisch, Loews Hotels; Andrew Cosslett, Windsor Berkshire (UK); Arne M. Sorenson, Marriott International; LaSalle Bank/ABN AMRO; Marcus and Molly Frost; Clark & Weinstock; Fred Cook, Golin Harris; William Fatt, Fairmont Hotels; Norm Bobbins, LaSalle Bank; Alan Dworman, AdCO Group; Hyatt Corporation; Jim McIntosh, First American Title Ins.; Joe Shenker, Sullivan & Cromwell • Paul Hastings Edelman Inc.


Madigan & Gertzendanner; Michael J. Scully; Mark Gordon, Sonnenblick Goldman; Deloitte & Touche; NBC; Lester Crown (Arie & Ida Crown Memorial); U.S. Equities; Lakeshore East LLC


John Baraket, Jacques Brand, Arthur de Haast, Chris J. Cahill, James Feldstein, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Jane Fraser, Vicki Gordon, Mark Gordon, Jack Guthman, Sheldon Holtzman, B. J. Hoppe, Willis Johnson, Bill Ives, Richard Langworth, Michael I. Less, Fred Malek Sr., Dan Myers, Bob Odell, Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Steven Roth, Ronnie Safdieh, Vick Seth, Randy Smith, Dick & Jenny Streiff, Matt Wills, Bernard Winograd


Jon Bunton, John W. Churchill, Geroge A. Gerber, Doreen Goodard, Andrea Graefen, Joe Hern, Keith Hobbs, Maibach Foundation, Danny & Heather Mander, Jack Miller, Jim Mills, David W. Ruttenberg, Linda Rae Sher, Christopher G. Sherron, John Slover Jr., Dr. Peter Suzuki, Lois Zollar


Mary Ellen Viskocil, Strategic Hotel Capital Inc., and Karen Linebarger, The Churchill Centre. 

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