The Place to Find All Things Churchill

35th International Churchill Conference Opening Remarks By Laurence Geller CBE

November 2018, Williamsburg, Virginia

Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the International Churchill Society

I would like to welcome you to the start of the 35th International Annual Churchill Conference in Colonial Williamsburg during our fiftieth anniversary year

In our 50th Anniversary year,

This amazing and unique venue that is an essential part of the fabric of the United States

And more particularly a place that spoke up for freedom and liberty

That is the reason why successive United States leaders have spent time here,

Knowing that that without learning from the past, they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

And also the reason that on March 8, 1946, Churchill and General Eisenhower visited Williamsburg,

Just three days after Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri with President Truman.

All of this is the reason why we are in Colonial Williamsburg today

For defending Freedom and Liberty was Churchill’s call to action.

In welcoming you all today I want to speak to you briefly about what you will see and hear over the course of the conference

and what the society has been doing since our last conference.

This morning, I want to accomplish about four important things:

Firstly to recognize some key people without whom this would not be a reality

Secondly to review what we have achieved since last year’s conference in New York City and to tell you our plans for the immediate future.

Thirdly to look at some of the modern-day global political issues and the similarity with those which Churchill encountered

And, finally, I want to mention the real and immediate need for further financial support and the launching of our Heritage Fund Appeal.

So, firstly I want to thank all of the great team at Colonial Williamsburg for working so tirelessly on our behalf.

I especially want to thank the very fine ‘Churchillian’, Mitchell Reiss, Colonial Williamsburg’s truly brilliant, energetic and farsighted CEO

Whose generosity of mind, heart, spirit and wallet made this conference possible.

Under Mitchell’s strong and determined leadership,

Colonial Williamsburg stands healthy and certain of its today’s and tomorrows.

And is a shining example for ICS

It is a sign of the importance of our work that we have such wide array of sponsors who have been amazingly generous

And we thank each of our sponsors for their commitment to our cause.

Without their generosity, we simply could not afford to mount our conferences.

This conference features many of the finest authors of recently published Churchill works.

You will hear them link the past to today.

We have interviews on current topics, always learning from the past

And much-anticipated remarks at our gala dinner from recently retired Supreme Court Justice Kennedy,

Justice Kennedy will then be interviewed by that fine historian and dedicated Churchillian, the ever-shy and retiring Chris Mathews

Our mission is simple and is to heed Mary Soames instructions

To “Keep the Memory Green”,

And to ensure the lessons learned from his life

Reach many more ears, hearts and minds than we have before,

Especially those that have a role in shaping our today’s and tomorrows.

We must never forget that, in 1948, Churchill said “Those that fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”

As an organization, we have come a long way from the dark days of the late ’90s

when both the UK and US Churchill Centers, as we were then known, had empty coffers and waning membership

And were perpetually struggling to keep their own financial ‘lights on’ and to find a clear reason for being

While at the very same time, the memories of Churchill and his astonishing legacy were becoming increasingly fainter.

We were competing for attention with other organizations, in particular, the National Churchill Museum

And the American Friends of the War Rooms and Churchill Museum in London, with whom we merged some years ago

Those were our Wilderness Years.

Fortunately, they have long been left behind us as we rebuilt, promoted, pushed, prompted and raised money,

Importantly, two years ago, the new ICS was formed as a result of the merger of The Churchill Centre

And the Association of Fellows of the National Churchill Museum

Now the bonds with organizations such as Chartwell, Blenheim and the Archives at Cambridge College, grow ever stronger

Importantly, following the lead of Mary Soames, Churchill’s grandson Winston, his son Randolph, the irrepressible Celia Sandys, Minnie and Jennie Churchill and so many more of the Churchill family

Who worked side by side with ICS and allowed us to bring the memory of Churchill very much into the forefront of the public eye.

As the amazing and crowd filled celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of Churchill’s passing proved in 2015,

The Society had succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations

Through over three decades of “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”, we never once wavered in our duty

And were finally at the “end of the beginning”.

At last, we could start the next step of our long and essential journey

Which, two years ago at our conference in DC, included the opening of the long-awaited, and hard fought for

National Churchill Library and Center on the campus of the famed George Washington University in D.C.

We will be forever grateful for our partnership with GW

And I thank their past Presidents Trachtenberg and Knapp and current President LeBlanc for their unwavering belief in our cause

And, especially, the Dean of Libraries, Geneva Henry who is with us at this conference for her patience and belief in our important mission

And for not murdering me with the ribbon cutting scissors when she had her chance!


2018 has been an eventful year for the International Churchill Society and Churchillians everywhere

And I unapologetically will take the time to enumerate your society’s activities

For there is not a scintilla of doubt that we have significantly contributed to ever increasing momentum in the ‘world of Churchill’.

Major new works, by such amazing and accomplished authors, as are with us at this conference have brought fresh insights and perspectives.

And yet more great scholarship is on the way.

Essentially, we renewed our vigor and determination to work closely with, and better support the all-important Chapters

Who can and do offer so much to keeping the Memory Green

And together with us will bear bushels of fruits to all in the World of Churchill

Major films about Churchill and World War II are abounded – causing a massive increase in awareness about all things Churchill

Darkest Hour deservedly garnered a plethora of coveted awards

While films such as Dunkirk and others added to our ‘Lion’s Roar’.

The National Churchill Library and Center University in Washington, D.C. continues to grow into its rightful position in our Nation’s Capital

With expanding collections, seminars and very successful series -“Churchill Conversations”.

Our UK organization’s “Churchill Interviews” series in the UK began last year with an interview of Sir John Major by Lord Marland

Followed up by last week’s wonderful interview at the Annual Fundraising dinner with the amazing Andrew Roberts conducted by British Secretary of State Michael Gove

Importantly, in 2019 a full rollout of the bi continental interview series is planned both here and in the UK

And will be dealing with matters of both historic and current relevance.

These video interviews will be live streamed where possible, always on our web site and widely distributed through a variety of social media channels

The exhibition ‘Churchill’s Shakespeare’ opened last month to critical acclaim in Washington DC’s Folger Shakespeare Library

The National Churchill Museum, in Fulton Missouri goes from strength to strength
Its outreach programs being increasingly successful

And next May celebrates its own 50th anniversary

The Pentland Sponsored Churchill Poster `Design Competition’ continues to expand and flourish in the UK

This year’s English Speaking Union ‘Churchill National Public Speaking Competition for Schools’ once again providing a unique national platform for so many talented young people.

The historic Long Beach-based, Queen Mary, launched her new Churchill exhibit

Our digitized Churchill Archive for Schools program is providing free and regularly updated lessons

And teaching modules on Churchill to high school level students throughout the world

It continually expands its reach and numbers with nearly 1500 schools currently participating

We need all of your help ,and that of our chapters ,to enlist increasing number of schools.

For this single program, when combined with our burgeoning scholarship and fellowships program

Provides a bespoke and unique Churchill Education infrastructure

We are launching our truly important and ever widening range of Scholarship and Fellowship programs in the UK and USA

And, although 2019 will see the in the roll out of this fundamental and important program,

I am delighted today to announce the launch of the first of many such named and sponsored programs,

The innovative Churchill Pentland Scholarships

Organized by a Trans-Atlantic relationship between ICS, University College London School of Public Policy and New York University Wagner

The first two annual Scholarships will be awarded for the 2019 / 2020 academic year.

Candidates will be residents of a low or middle income country as defined by the World Bank.

Each scholarship recipient will have to demonstrate a commitment to improving public service and administration for the populations of their and similar countries.

I am pleased to announce yet another generous gift from the Harry & Alice Stillman Foundation to he National Churchill Library and Center

This funding will enable and support much needed research activities focused on topics of relevance to Winston Churchill’s example of global leadership.

Preference will be given to projects that emphasize the relevance of Churchill’s leadership to current affairs.

The overall program is designated as the National Churchill Library and Center Research Fellows Program.

The awardees would be the National Churchill Library and Center Undergraduate/Graduate Research Fellows.

Initially at, least ten fellowships will be offered.

Roger Stillman’s consistent support, hard work and love of history epitomize Churchillian values and we are lucky that he is of common cause with us.

Finest Hour ceaselessly goes from strength to strength and stands ever taller amongst all such publications.

The ‘Churchill Bulletin’ reaches some 40,000 people with each edition.

Our website now gets over 2 million hits annually

And, for the first time, over 40% of its traffic comes from 18 -34 year olds – an obviously healthy trend for our future.

Our daily social media program increasingly improves with a widening reach to ever greater numbers.

Our conferences continually delve ever further into the life of the great man

As we understand not only his past but increasingly promulgate the lessons learned to influence the future

Next year our conference will be in Washington DC at the end of October

And the 2020 Annual Conference will be held in September at Churchill College Cambridge

They promise to be truly terrific and exciting events and are must attend events

It is so very pleasing and rewarding to see more and more Churchill programs, events, exhibitions

Continuing to grow organically as interest in Churchill annually increases

Know that it is no accident that Chartwell and Blenheim thrive today as never before

And research figures continue to increase at the Churchill Archives Centre in Churchill College, Cambridge,

A great indicator of the extent of scholarship that lies ahead

All the while, the queues waiting to go to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum stretch further around the block

In 1940 Churchill said:

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.”

In the past, your generosity and all the hard work, has helped that ‘lamp’ burn ever more brightly.

In so doing it also illuminates our increasingly troubled present.

For while we know that history does not repeat itself, we equally know it certainly has an influence.

As we look around the turbulent, fragile and dangerous world today,

It is easy to see that we are not at the end of history or in some brave new world.

No, in 2018 we are still dealing with the legacies of the past now

And still fighting the sorts of battles that would be recognizable to Churchill in his day and sadly are all too familiar:

Populism, autocracy and despotism are once again on the rise

The turmoil in the Middle East grows unabated

Russia, China, Iran ambitiously expand their regions of influence

‘Personal Summit-eering’, The rise of feminism, Brexit, The Special Relationship, nationalism, the decline of UK military resources – all relentlessly appear in one guise or another

However, Lady Soames quite rightly used to caution us all against trying to presume to know what her father would do or say in response to the latest news.

But we can certain of one thing.

He would not have done nothing and nor would he have said nothing.

I feel sure he would have thrown himself into the debate.

He would have spoken out where he saw wrong doing,

And he would have sought to take “Action This Day”.

We also know the principles that he would have asserted:

Defending the values that have shaped our democracy

Freedom of speech, equality under the law, free and fair elections

Speaking up for the British national interest and prestige

Speaking up for freedom and democracy wherever in the world

Opposing totalitarianism of whatever political creed

Standing up against the persecution of minorities

Advocating scientific progress and the benefits of technology for all

He would not have pandered to instant polling

In short, he would have been uniquely Churchill

The International Churchill Society continues to believe that we have a duty to learn from Churchill’s past

And do whatever we can to influence the future, our future and that of generations yet to come

But we also recognize that we need to help create the Churchills of the future,

Enabling them to speak truth to power,

Helping them to articulate their vision,

And giving them the skills to shape their destiny.

And that is why I am asking for your much-needed financial support, if we are to fulfil this really important mission.

The International Churchill Society needs not only your continued but your increased generosity

Your financial contributions will help us quickly implement these costly and so very important programs

As you know, Fundraising is increasingly competitive, professional and difficult

Raising unrestricted funds for general purposes is harder than ever before.

We have no choice but to continue to do so, but it can no longer be our sole method of fundraising.

We have determined that we will seek funds for specific and nameable purposes.

Such as the Churchill Pentland Scholarships, the Churchill Archives for School and the Stillman …. At George Washington University

And, where needed we know we must raise specific endowments or sponsorships to sustain them on a multi-year basis

From our named fellowships and Scholarships, from research projects to seminars, from the Interview Series to Conferences,

Each will have an amount needed and will be funded by specific restricted gift fundraising with associated naming rights.,

This will be increasingly the norm

Obviously, that’s where you and fellow Churchillians and corporate sponsors come in.

That’s why this year’s Heritage Fund Appeal starts today and will be used to fund specific projects from amongst those I have generically described

We will roll out the appeal using every communication channel at our disposal.

Today, we are asking you to give as generously as you can so we can pursue our mission

All in the name of Britain’s Finest Son, the one man who kept the flame of freedom burning through so many bleak and daunting years,

And whose leadership skills are so crucially needed by today’s leaders.

Please know that your immediate help will allow us to both accelerate and increase our much needed efforts

And will inspire new generations to follow the lessons and unparalleled example of Sir Winston Churchill.

I would like to thank you for attending this great conference and making such a commitment of time and money to attend.

I am unabashedly asking for you to increase your generosity both now and in the future.

Please give as generously as you can, knowing that we as a Society have already done magnificent work with our meagre skinny resources

And have proven ourselves not only able custodians of Churchill’s legacy but truly worthy of your future generosity

Our work is cut out for us as we narrowly focus on three areas of endeavor:

Our programs such as education, conferences, research and seminars

Our Interview series and communication activities

And fundraising, that essential ingredient that makes the rest possible

I assure you we will continue to passionately give more blood, toil, sweat and tears with all our hearts and energy to match your generosity.

But we can’t do it without your help, enthusiasm, passion and, above all your financial assistance.

I am asking you to take Action This Day and ask yourselves

“If not me, who – If not now, when”.

Please enjoy both the unique ColonialnWilliamsburg and this exceptional conference and take from it all you can

for the wealth of wisdom, knowledge and scholarship on array is simply unapparelled

All assembled in the memory of the man who so greatly influenced the course of world events and shaped the lives of all of those who enjoy democracy today

And, thank heavens, was ever the bold, courageous and unrelenting defender of liberty and freedom – Thank you

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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.