Laurence Geller CBE has been chairman of the International Churchill Society (ICS) for more than two decades. At the end of 2023, he will be stepping down. ICS Executive Director Justin Reash sat down with Laurence for an interview reflecting on his time as chairman.
Laurence Geller is late. But that is understandable given the numerous commitments of his intertwined life, where business is personal and the personal is passionate. After moving back to the United Kingdom, following a thirty year stay in the United States, Laurence has not missed a beat. From launching Loveday, a luxury-care facility for people with dementia, to being appointed by the British Government as a ministerial advisor on concussions in sport, one wonders how he finds the time to drink his beloved wines. What I also must mention, but do not have space to describe in full, are his chairmanship of The Love of the Game, a concussion charity, and serving on the Board of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
And, just last year, he married his beloved Jennie Churchill.
At the center of this whirlwind is a man who has blazed an unlikely path from the East End of London to the bright lights of Chicago, via Israel’s Six-Day War and the humidity of Memphis, Tennessee. An indefatigable entrepreneur, Laurence has built businesses, seen his famed resilience (some may call it stubbornness) tested in recessions, and maintained lifelong and enduring relationships with people along the way.
With some relief, then, I am pleased to offer you this interview with Laurence so you can hear directly from him, not only about these and other topics but—most importantly—his immense dedication to the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
Laurence, thank you for everything.
I grew up in East London in the 1950s, and Churchill, at least in those times, was everyone’s hero. In the 1980s, I decided that I needed to get to know this titanic figure and bought the official biography. Like most people, upon reading about Churchill, I became incredibly interested in his life. About halfway through my reading of the biography, I learned that there was a group of aficionados called the International Churchill Society and happily joined.
Somehow, I was invited to attend a book launch with Martin Gilbert in Chicago at a very fancy club that lacked Jewish members. After standing in a long line to meet Martin, I nervously exclaimed to him, “You’re Jewish!” He replied, “Yes, dear boy, and if I were you I would shut up because there’s only two of us here.” That started a lifelong friendship between us.
A few years later I signed up to attend the ICS conference in Boston and enjoyed this interesting group. I realized it had incredible potential to be more than a historical club. I was then asked to help support the organization financially, and, as per my nature, I started to get more involved in the hands-on business of the operation. This journey led to me becoming Chairman in 2003.
On Christmas Eve 1992 or 1993, the artery between my neck and my brain burst open after a botched sinus surgery. I was pronounced dead once or twice, and when I recovered, I simply said to myself that I’m going to do only what I desire to do. That experience gave me a distinct sense of mortality and focused me on going after the things that I wanted.
As well as fear of failure. I’ve never been the smartest guy, so I have to work twice as hard and twice as many hours to figure things out!
Daniel Burnham was an architect in Chicago who planned the famous 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. While living in Chicago for thirty years, I came to hold him in the highest regard. The quote is, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”
This quote is my life! I gravitated to Churchill because he led with his chin, believed in his words, got knocked down and got up time and again. What attracted me to Burnham was that he seemed to sum up the Churchillian ethos so well in one sentence. Burnham was a “Churchill” about the same time that Churchill was a “Churchill.” These great men did great things. Burnham’s words and Churchill’s deeds helped inspire me to be the person I am today, for good or for bad.
If you don’t give back, what sort of person are you? If you are more successful than you ever expected, which fortunately I have been, then, if you don’t give back, you must ask yourself two questions: if not me, who? and, if not now, when?
By sheer dint of stubbornness ICS has flourished in the US and the UK. We’ve made it financially healthy and professionally managed. We have held important events, such as donating the Churchill bust to the US Capitol in 2013, the opening of the National Churchill Leadership Center at the George Washington University in 2016, and honoring President Zelenskyy last year.
ICS is now recognized globally, not just for honoring Churchill’s legacy, but for ensuring that his legacy remains relevant today and tomorrow. I believe I have given all of the work, wealth, and wisdom to this essential cause and organization that I could.
Make no small plans: there is no plan too bold for a Churchillian! Churchill’s mission in the Second World War was “Victory, victory at all costs!”
Pol Roger, bien sur.
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