Chronologically as received…
A thing to grieve over. She knew how to be the daughter of a great man. It involved being a good person.
LARRY ARNN, PRESIDENT, HILLSDALE COLLEGE, HILLSDALE, MICH.
She was the living embodiment of her Father’s ideals and spirit, our guiding light and inspiration over many years of committed service. She joined the Council in 1978 and was Chairman of Trustees in 1991-2002—a wonderful twenty-four years of personal dedication. Even after retirement as our “Fellow Emeritus” she remained interested in the Trust’s work and what Churchill Fellows were achieving, always attending our House of Commons dinners and award ceremonies. As our Guest of Honour she presented Churchill Medallions and gave a wonderful address at the award ceremony at the Guildhall in 2008. Her presence and inspiration will be much missed.
JAMIE BALFOUR, DIRECTOR GENERAL, CHURCHILL MEMORIAL TRUST
She will be remembered as one who gave so much to others. We join in sending our sincere condolences.
BARBARA HIGGINS, CHURCHILL CLUB OF CONWY, WALES
In all the tributes, it’s very important to recall that she was also a first-class biographer and historian. Her biography of her mother won the Wolfson Prize, Britain’s top award for history, and her edition of her parents’ correspondence was meticulous in its scholarship. She wrote six interesting, intelligent, well-crafted books. Her turn of phrase was never less than elegant, her insights invariably acute. For as long as people are interested in Churchill’s personality and actions—that is, for the rest of Time—we will be in debt to her skill as a writer.
ANDREW ROBERTS, NEW YORK CITY
The loss of this great lady with the many insights she offered to her father is shared here.
DANIEL ARTAGAVEYTIA, MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
She stands out as the longest-lived Churchill in history. I thought it rather poignant that just after the announcement of her passing I was reading in Finest Hour about the founding of the Churchill Centre in Boston twenty years ago (FH 162: 52), and there was the picture of Mary next to Harriet and me. She stayed at our home for the few days before that conference.
CYRIL MAZANSKY, NEWTON CENTRE, MASS.
Once with David and Diane Boler we took Mary to dinner, where she told of her wartime experiences. We were so enthralled that we asked if she would show us where her battery was situated. Off we went to Hyde Park Corner. About 100 yards in, she outlined the placement of guns, ammunition and stores. Then she told us of how “Papa” would invite VIPs like Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, to “go and watch Mary’s battery pop-off a few.” On one visit her father decided to rest, and sat down on a box of ammunition to puff a cigar. Overhead was a large sign: “Danger. No Smoking,” but no one was prepared to point that out to the Prime Minister!
Around the VE-Day anniversary in 1995 I went to her townhouse late on a warm afternoon. She greeted me at the door and after showing me around offered me a drink. She opened her fridge and all I saw was yogurt and champagne. She said: “We must have The Cuvée.” I said, “of course,” and over the course of a lengthy visit, we drank the entire bottle. As I left I stood outside in the heat, my head swimming from all that champagne, thinking, “I just shared an entire bottle of Pol Roger Churchill Cuvée with his daughter—why didn’t I have her sign the bottle?” But I couldn’t get my head and feet to coordinate going back to her door, so I piled into the taxi she had ordered for me, went back to my hotel and passed out. She went out for dinner.
JOHN PLUMPTON, TCC PRESIDENT 2000-03, TORONTO, ONT.
In Marrakesh during the Morocco tour I entered a room just after Mary had learned that my wife Margaret was home expecting our first child, Anna. She greeted me with the enthusiasm she might have expressed had her father won the 1945 election. She told me of the joy when her first child was born, and about child-rearing in general. In one of her talks she mentioned her sister Diana praying: “Oh God, please bless the Dardanelles, whatever they are.” This reminded my wife of Anna, aged one, already impatient with us and the world, standing beside her crib in the morning, announcing: “ Mafeking has been relieved!” This was Anna’s way of speeding her parents to get the day moving—not a reference to Churchill but to Shirley Temple playing “The Little Princess,” whose father was in the Boer War.
FRED SHEEHAN, BRAINTREE, MASS.
I was never fortunate enough to meet her, but the entire team was so very fond of her as a longstanding supporter of our work here. The loss of her friendship and guidance will be keenly felt by all. Our thoughts go out to her family at this difficult time. To honour her passing, our flag flew at half-mast over Chartwell.
KATHERINE BARNETT, HOUSE & COLLECTIONS MGR., CHARTWELL, KENT
We met at the 1990 San Francisco conference. Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, but despite the crisis I obtained leave from my submarine to attend. At the traditional black-tie banquet I was introduced to her by Robert Hardy as “a young gentleman in the Navy.” I was young in those days, and it is a pleasant memory.
Is there anyone left who can claim to have met FDR, Truman, Stalin, de Gaulle, Lawrence of Arabia, Stanley Baldwin and Charlie Chaplin? She knew them all, and more. Fortunately she shared her memories with us, in person and in print, and we became the richer for it.
DAVID FREEMAN, EDITOR, CHARTWELL BULLETIN, PLACENTIA, CALIF.
I recall a smart young Army lieutenant, aide-de-camp to her father the Prime Minister. at Potsdam in 1945. I was part of a group of Royal Marines responsible for the security and protection of the British Cabinet (“Eye-Witness to Potsdam,” FH 145: 30-36.) Now that Mary has rejoined her family, I would like to pay my greatest respects to that young, smart, efficient Lieutenant I remember from 1945, and to those who loved her.
NEVILLE BULLOCK RM (RET.), ASHTON, LANCASHIRE
She frequently visited the Angus Glens. At a concert in Cortachy Castle the act—the Whiffenpoof singers from Yale University—was running late, and Lady Airlie suggested that her houseguest could “do a turn” to keep the audience entertained. Lady Soames agreed to tell them a bit about “Mama and Papa.” Their marriage was not as stormy as some believe, she said, likening it to Shakespeare’s sonnet 116. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments,” she began. “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” she continued, completing the poem in time for the Whiffenpoofs’ arrival.
THE SCOTSMAN, EDINBURGH
One of my fondest memories is sitting with her in our New Hampshire colonial home, going through Georgina Landemare’s cookbook, Recipes From Number Ten. I treasure my copy, festooned with blue Sticky Notes on favorite recipes. I was writing a column interpreting the recipes and measurements for modern kitchens (FH 95-115). We sat hip to hip, slowly turning the pages, as Mary noted particularly memorable dishes. Three Sticky Notes are marked in her own hand: cold mousse, Boodles orange fool, gateau hollandaise. I offered these and her other favorites in my column: coq au vin, pommes de terre anna, beignets, biscuits fromage, eclairs. Later she sent me Mrs. Landemare’s handwritten recipe for Christmas pudding, which the cook had given to Grace Hamblin. Attached was a note from Grace, who said Mrs. Landemare “was always trying to make a cook out of me.” “You have devoted so much thought and cooking, so many hours, to revive Mrs. Landemare’s recipes,” Mary wrote. “Here is a little present for you, which I believe you will cherish.” Yes, I most certainly do.
BARBARA LANGWORTH, MOULTONBOROUGH, N.H.
Chartwell was her home growing up and her autobiography recounts lovely stories of playing and relaxing with her family here. I feel very privileged to have known her. She was instrumental in every aspect of Chartwell’s development to enable visitors to enjoy her family home. She and Lady Churchill developed the visitor route and decided which parts of the collection should be on show; they added staircases and extra doors to create a smooth visitor flow. I have fond memories of her passion for this place. She came to meet me in my first month. We went round the house and studio and it was great to hear her stories about the rooms and collections. When we got to the studio she was not as pleased, for we had the whisky and soda mix too strong. “My father never had his whisky that strong!” she exclaimed to us. I always check how it looks when I go in the studio. We shall all miss her guidance and wisdom.
ZOË COLBECK, GENERAL MANAGER, CHARTWELL, KENT
We had fortuitous conversation when I was preparing a presentation on her father and his art for the American Art Therapy Association. From my studies of his use of art as therapy, I had formed the opinion that Churchill was not Manic Depressive as is so commonly stated. Rather, his need for hyperactivity affected him strongly when circumstances slowed him down, and he turned to painting to absorb his vibrant energy. I asked Lady Soames if she felt that her father experienced depression, his “black dog.” She responded, “I think the psychiatrists have made rather a big meal of that!” The only times she had seen her father depressed, she added, were times when not to be sad would have been inhuman: “Some of the things he went through would depress anybody.”
CAROL BRECKENRIDGE, CLEVELAND, OHIO
I met her twice: once when Mary Helen, my late wife, and I were visiting the Churchill Archives Centre and Allen Packwood kindly invited us to lunch with him and Lady Soames; and at the 2007 Vancouver conference when were at her table for dinner. My talk at Vancouver about Churchill and the Burma campaign necessarily involved some criticism, nuanced I hope, of her father. Lady Soames was extremely gracious afterwards and really did accept that historians would necessarily see things a bit differently than her father had—very impressive from a devoted daughter. We were both struck by her charm, her considerable knowledge worn lightly, and her sense of humor. With her passing a link with a great past is severed.
PROF. RAYMOND CALLAHAN, UNIV. OF DELAWARE, NEWARK, DEL.
She was a great patron and regular visitor to both Churchill College and the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge, where she spent much time. I remember her coming to undertake research for her excellent book of her parents’ letters, Speaking for Themselves. While sitting in our reading room she spotted me leading a group of primary school children around the Archives Centre. I explained that they were here as part of a classroom study they were doing of her father, and she instantly offered to meet with them.
When it came to questions there was initial shyness, but finally one young boy piped up: “Are you famous just because your father was famous?” His teacher’s face flushed red. For a few seconds there was an awkward silence. Then Mary defused it all: “But dear, I am not famous at all. I am lucky to be the daughter of a famous father.” It was a brilliant answer, but only half correct, for she was justly famous in her own right—for her role in the war as an officer with anti-aircraft batteries, for her prize-winning biography of her mother and other literary works, for her role at the National Theatre, for her leadership and patronage of the global network of Churchill organisations. The Churchill Archives Centre is proud to hold her papers alongside those of her father, mother, brother and husband.
ALLEN PACKWOOD, CHURCHILL ARCHIVES CENTRE, CAMBRIDGE
Mary was a wonderful supporter of all UK activities of the Churchill Society and Centre. I fondly recall her attendance at our conferences in Bath, Portsmouth and London, where she was inevitably the star of the show. Being with her in Bermuda and Quebec, and at the exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington, when we were addressed by President George W. Bush, was also a great treat, as she mingled with so many international admirers. My wife and I were privileged to have been invited by Mary to attend the annual service of the Order of the Garter in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2010. As she processed in and out of the chapel with the Queen and the other Knights and Ladies, clad in her dark blue Garter mantle and plumed Tudor bonnet, we had a rare glimpse of her as part of the panoply of State. When she was appointed a Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter in 2005, I sent her congratulations. “I am, of course, thrilled and feel deeply honoured,” she replied. “There seems to be a great number of things to organise (or be organised for) in advance of the installation, and I am off this very afternoon to be informed on all these matters by no less than Garter King of Arms and the Secretary of the Order of the Garter.” At this point the typescript abruptly terminated….followed by a final paragraph in her own hand: “Later. Back home—my head whirling with the detail. I shall walk the dog!”
PAUL COURTENAY, F H SENIOR EDITOR, ANDOVER, HANTS.
She was our Patron from 1984—and how fortunate that was. Many patrons exist only as organizational ornaments, aroused and displayed and then quickly shelved. Not ours! From the outset, she immersed herself in our work: attending board meetings (on ship and ashore), playing central roles at our conferences, contributing to Finest Hour, writing and speaking on our behalf and, importantly, offering wise and timely advice. The Churchill Centre’s debt to her can never be repaid, but it can be acknowledged through the coming years coupled with appropriate reminders of how essential she was to everything we did, and hoped to do.
BILL IVES, TCC PRESIDENT, 2003-07, CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
When we met at Williamsburg Conference in 1998, our conversation was light and friendly. She always greeted us warmly later. As her “hosts” at the 2003 Bermuda conference it was fun to wander the buffet with Mary saying, “a bit of that and, oh yes, some of this,” as her plate filled. Our conversation was often about family and travel. We cherish the formal photograph of us with her at the special reception. Mary was awash in a light blue satin gown with a crowning tiara. She was a lady in every sense. We will continue to miss her presence.
PHIL AND SUE LARSON, CHICAGO, ILL.
It was 2007, on the occasion of Martin Gilbert’s publication of his book on the Battle of the Somme (FH 134). Bursting with excitement, I was eager to tell her of The American Spectator’s respect for her father. She accepted my admiration with grace but turned to the lady next to me, whom I had neglected to introduce— my wife Jeanne, as luck would have it. She more than compensated for my neglect and we went home that night agreeing we had met a wonderful woman. R. EMMETT TYRRELL, ED., THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR, WASHINGTON
Each time I saw her speak she held the audience in the palm of her hand while radiating intelligence, charm, diplomatic sensitivity, and an underlying strength of character of which one is always aware even though it’s largely unspoken. How fortunate Sir Winston was to have a daughter who was such an intelligent, persuasive and indefatigable champion of his reputation.
PROF. PAUL ADDISON, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
One afternoon years ago she invited my two young daughters and me to her cozy London home. Before lunch we shared a bottle of Pol Roger while “Prune,” her Lancashire Heeler, sadly blind, entertained us by running round the garden, maneuvering around plants and shrubs as if she had built-in radar.
After showing us around, pointing out important paintings and memorabilia, she called for a taxi to a restaurant, for more champagne and a fine lunch including “pudding,” the English word for dessert: “One can’t have lunch without a pudding.” Carefully and “age-appropriately” she told of how frightened she was during “that ghastly war” and how many times she did not think that she would survive. Her father, she said, felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. “You see,” she reminded the girls, “we didn’t know we were going to win, so it was touch-and-go for a long time, and he felt very much alone.” We sat spellbound, having a personal history lesson from one of the “greatest generation.”
JACQUELINE, OLIVIA AND CHARLOTTE WITTER, REDWOOD CITY, CALIF.
Mary was a generous friend dating back to the 1990 Conference in San Francisco, when you seated me next to her at the Board dinner. She wrote a splendid letter of introduction that aided research for my book, Winston Churchill: Soldier. She also wrote a lovely and gracious preface for the new edition of my Churchill Centre book, The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Sir Winston Churchill. After she received the Order of The Garter in 2005, she sent me the programs for the investiture, the procession and the installation service (which she called “a nice slice of medieval cake”) because she knew I would be interested—completely unbidden.
HON. DOUGLAS RUSSELL, IOWA CITY, IA.
One late afternoon, after sitting through a number of presentations at a Churchill Conference and bemoaning the difficulty of staying awake, Mary told us this story. When her husband Christopher was British Ambassador to France (1968-72), they attended many dinners with long, often boring after-dinner speeches. Mary often fell asleep, but Christopher was nice about it. One evening, she fell asleep on Lord Rothschild’s shoulder! Afterwards she asked Lady Rothschild how did she always stay awake? She answered, “NoDoz.” From that time on, Mary told us, “I still take NoDoz.”
JUDITH KAMBESTAD, LOS OSOS, CALIF.
At the 1990 San Francisco conference, when asked to name figures who had an influenced her father in terms of leadership, strategy and political thought, Lady Soames named five including Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. On the spot, an idea was born for a 1991 “Churchill’s Virginia” conference on Churchill and the American Civil War, which we duly held at Richmond and Williamsburg. Sir Martin Gilbert and Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. were the keynote speakers.
In San Francisco, the Board arrived a day early for dinner with Lady Soames. Afterward the party boarded a private trolley for a ride through the city. She and I sat together, arms interlocked. Thanks to Christian Pol-Roger the trolley was well-stocked with bubbly—so I had a champagne cable car ride with my traveling companion, Lady Soames. What an indelible memory!
RICHARD KNIGHT, NASHVILLE, TENN.
Ellen and I had the privilege of meeting her at a book signing in 1992 at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York, where she opened an exhibit of her father’s paintings. (See “A Friend Who Was Here,” page 36.) We were waiting to have our book signed, it occurred to me that we were going to London soon and had never been to Chartwell. I came up with the bright idea of asking Her Ladyship how to get to Chartwell by public transport. Ellen was mortified and said, “You can’t ask her that!” I replied, “Why not? She lived there, she ought to know!”
Well, I did, and Lady Soames could not have been more gracious. She not only told us what train to take, but how much the cab fare should be from the station, and recommended a restaurant or two in the area. The book she signed that day, Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter, is a cherished part of my library.
HON. JONAH TRIEBWASSER, RED HOOK, N.Y.
My wife Dorothy and I first met Lady Soames in 1984. We saw her last when she hosted us at her home in London in September 2012. Lady Soames was especially close to our Churchill Society of British Columbia and its members. Her husband, Lord Soames, gave the first address to the Society after its formation in 1979, and Lady Soames addressed our members at our annual banquets in 1984, 1989 and 2003. At the International Churchill Conference, organized and hosted by the Churchill Society of British Columbia in Vancouver in 2007, the attendees were privileged to celebrate Lady Soames’s birthday with our Patron as the guest of honour. Mary established close relationships with a number of our members, including our past president Joe Siegenberg and our former director Joan McConkey. She often seemed to rely on me to help her at the many conferences and events we attended.
CHRISTOPHER HEBB, W. VANCOUVER, B.C.
It was during my fifteen-month wedding trip, the first time I lived in London, that I met Mary Soames, introduced by a mutual friend. I was at work on a book on Churchill. As we talked in her flat in spring 1989, I was struck, like others who write about her father, with her sympathetic and respectful view of my interest in his writings. Over the years I came to realize that it was the natural result of growing up in the house of a serious writer, and being one herself.
An ally and friend from the start, she answered my questions, urging me to plunge into every controversy and to make up my own mind. Disclaiming special expertise, she insisted I talk to those who knew about his books and arranged for me to visit Sir William Deakin in France.
When Judith and I resolved to found the Rt Hon Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of Alaska in 1990, Mary agreed to be its patron. In 1994 she made her first visit to Alaska. At Denali National Park, she saw the Churchill Peaks, the north and south summits of Mt. McKinley; then, tying a kerchief around her neck, she gamely ate ribs and corn on the cob. As our guest of honor at a Churchill Society dinner, she jumped up to join the Canaries in singing Harrow School songs.
For the next two decades we enjoyed her company, including a memorable trip to the Crimea. I was struck by her ability to find the right words on every occasion. In Simferopol Airport, after putting up with fulsome greetings from our bloviating Russian hosts for two hours, she gently ended the session, recalling from her father’s memoirs that it was quite a drive to Yalta. They assured her the trip was faster now, and it was: our bus barreled straight down the middle of the road with a police escort, making other drivers dive onto the shoulder.
Most delightful were our talks at her house in London over a small bottle of Pol Roger, or in her favorite restaurant around the corner. She counted it her duty to set the record straight in the alleys of political and historical controversy when someone mistook the facts or was unfair to her father. She inherited his noble love of truth and never shrank from hard thinking or blunt talk. It was fine to see her loyalty to her father’s memory. But I also enjoyed her wit, her delight in life, her encouragement, her sense of fun, her sparkling eyes. We often talked about the rewards and vicissitudes of writing. I marveled at her schedule when she was rising at six in the morning to work through the quiet hours on her edition of her parents’ letters to each other. She taught me to differentiate, when inscribing my books, between a book I gave someone and a book someone asked me to sign, lest the latter inscription suggest the book was my gift—a nice distinction.
By 1995, when I came to England for research and we lived at Churchill College in Cambridge, our daughter Helen had arrived; Mary always remembered her birthday and asked her to call her an honorary aunt.
In 2000 Mary returned to Alaska for the 17th Churchill Conference and celebrated her birthday with us. The night before it opened, as we sat on the carpet assembling packets for 200 delegates, we were surprised when she joined us to finish the job. When we lived in London again in autumn 2004, Helen enrolled at Queen’s College, an independent girls’ school where Mary had studied for a year. I dare say her recommendation had something to do with Helen’s being admitted for only a few months.
No one who met Mary will ever forget her charm, her acuity, her judgment, or the twinkle in her eyes. Those who missed meeting her, and everyone who misses her now, will find all those qualities in her books.
JAMES W. MULLER, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA
At the Quebec Conference I said to her, “Because of my admiration for your father, my son named his son Winston.” She said “good” and gave me the thumbs-up sign. I have a photo of my grandson at Bladon.
BARTLETT COCKE JR., SAN ANTONIO, TEX.
In Bermuda after the 2003 conference, my wife Diane and I were sitting in the hotel lounge when Mary joined us for afternoon tea. As the afternoon wore on, more and more people joined us. Eventually the conversation moved on to the war, and more specifically, the Allied invasion of France. I asked her, “What were you doing on D-Day?” fully expecting her to say she was providing succour and support to her father as he anxiously awaited news of the invasion, or perhaps in Southwick House on the south coast, where the invasion headquarters were. “My dear,” she replied, “I was attending a lecture with several hundred other ATS girls on how to make omelettes from powdered eggs.”
That same afternoon she told me of the time she and her husband Christopher, then Ambassador to France, attended a state banquet hosted by President de Gaulle. Mary was seated next to the President, and, after a long and munificent dinner, the great man rested his head on Mary’s shoulder, and fell asleep! “Oh, Mary,” I said with a laugh, “I do hope you are going to put these sort of anecdotes in your autobiography (which she was then writing). “Oh no, my dear,” she replied, “you mustn’t forget that these men have children.” That was Mary, polite and thoughtful of others to the last.
DAVID BOLER, TONBRIDGE, KENT
For the past two years I have been the President of the Board of Advisers for Osher Life Long Learning Institute at Duke University. In September I start my eighth one-semester course on Churchill. When I come to his children I hope I can manage not to tear up. One had only to meet Mary to love her.
DR. A. WENDELL MUSSER, DURHAM, N.C.
In 2004 we heard that Lady Soames’s Canadian Tilley hat, of which she was most fond, had been devoured by some animal in South Africa. Arriving for the Portsmouth conference that year, we brought a new one, signed by the inventor, Alex Tilley himself, carrying it in a fragile hatbox. She welcomed us at West House with tea, cookies and Pol Roger—and literally popped from her chair with delight and immediately tried it on: hence this wonderful picture!
Briefly alone, I raced to video Mary’s collection of her father’s paintings, which she invited me to do. What an opportunity! Alas it was not to be, for Solveig had worn the batteries down filming Mary, her Tilley hat, and her garden. Later she called a cab to take us to our next stop. The driver refused all coin of the realm, even a tip. He said Lady Soames had already paid, sternly directing him to take no tip. He even called me “Guv’nor.”
As we look back over the thirty years we were blessed with her company, Solveig and I remember fondly the “Tilley Afternoon” at West House. Our memories lessen the sadness of her loss.
G.R. (RANDY) BARBER, CHAIRMAN, ICS CANADA, MARKHAM, ONT.
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