The Place to Find All Things Churchill

Opening Remarks for the 35th International Churchill Conference by Michael F. Bishop

Opening Remarks, 35th International Churchill Conference, Williamsburg, Virginia

November 10, 2018

Michael F Bishop is the Director of the National Churchill Library and Center at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and the Executive Director of the International Churchill Society.

Thank you, Laurence, for your remarks and your leadership, and thanks to our Vice-Chairman, Jean-Paul Montupet, for all that you do.  We have with us this weekend a number of distinguished International Churchill Society board members, and we thank them for their time and generosity.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the 35th International Churchill Conference.  It is fitting and proper that we should meet in Colonial Williamsburg–one of the cradles of democracy–a form of government which Churchill did so much to save.

Let me express my gratitude to the members of the Churchill family: Minnie, Randolph, and Jennie Churchill—and Edwina Sandys–for gathering with us this weekend, and for their continued support of our cause.

And thanks to all our many generous sponsors, but particularly to the Corrine and Lenny Sands Foundation.  Lenny, who sadly could not be with us this weekend, is a stalwart and generous friend of the International Churchill Society, and a constant source of wisdom and inspiration to us all.

The theme of our Conference is “Walking with Destiny”, which recalls Churchill’s famous reflections on the moment when—with his nation and the world in peril—ultimate power finally came to him in 1940.  As he later wrote:

“Thus, then, on the night of the 10th of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State… During these last crowded days of the political crisis my pulse had not quickened at any moment. I took it all as it came. But I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 a.m. I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

This weekend in Williamsburg, we will join Churchill in his walk with destiny, exploring facets of his life and leadership with some of the most distinguished scholars and leaders of our day.

Familiar friends such as Allen Packwood and Sir David Cannadine will debut their important new books about Churchill’s decision-making and painting, respectively.

We will also hear from first-time speakers and younger scholars: Dan Todman will look at Churchill’s difficult and pivotal experiences in 1942, and Felix Klos, a historian and candidate for the European Parliament, will explore Churchill’s passion for European unity, with its obvious relevance to ongoing Brexit process.

The entertaining and erudite Giles Milton will show us that though Churchill was a gentleman, he was prepared—when necessary–to use ungentlemanly means to achieve victory.

Mitchell Reiss, a former senior diplomat–and special envoy to Northern Ireland and North Korea–and now the President and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, will join foreign affairs commentator and biographer of Castlereagh and Clement Attlee John Bew, to apply the lessons of Churchill’s life and career to the diplomatic challenges that continue to face us the world over.

Our conference will culminate—fittingly enough–with the triumphant launch of the brilliant new Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts.

And of course we are honored to welcome the recently retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Anthony M. Kennedy, who will deliver the keynote this evening and reflect upon the challenges of leadership, from the unique vantage point of one who served for decades on the nation’s highest court, and who emerged as the key vote on many of the most challenging cases of our time.

We are met on a weekend of great significance.  Tomorrow marks the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War.  In homage, we will pause on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to offer tribute in prose, poetry, and music to those who fought and fell.  Later today, we will hear from Ed Lengel in conversation with Rob Havers, who will discuss the fighting man in World War I and the legacy of that conflict for the men and women in uniform today.  We have distributed poppies from the British Legion, that powerful symbol of remembrance, to all attendees to wear this weekend.

In the coming years, we will renew our efforts to coordinate and promote the efforts of our chapters around the country; those “little platoons” (in the phrase of Edmund Burke) that stimulate an interest in Churchill in communities around the country.  I am pleased that the Chapter chairs gathered yesterday to discuss strategy and best practices, and were joined by Randolph, Laurence, Jennie, and myself.  Congratulations to Stacy Terris, the dynamic leader of the Churchill Society of Wisconsin, on his richly deserved Chartwell Award, and we are committed to working with him and the other Chapter leaders—new and well established–to harness the energy of the Chapters and ensure that ICS thrives now and in the future.

As Laurence mentioned, the culmination of a two-year effort of the International Churchill Society, in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., to launch “Churchill’s Shakespeare”, which features documents and artifacts from the Churchill Archives Centre, Chartwell, and the Folger. The show will close on January 6.

Much of what we do is achieved through the remarkable array of leaders and speakers who so generously donate their time; the sponsors who make this conference and much else possible; and the hard work of our board and staff.

Speaking of the latter, I would like to thank the staff members who have helped make this Conference a success: David Freeman, Erin Minnaugh, Justin Reash, and John Olsen.  They and our volunteers are here to assist you this weekend as we celebrate the life and career of Winston Churchill, and explore the many ways “history with its flickering lamp” can illuminate the present.

But our efforts would come to nothing without you.  Our members—and the future members I trust we have among us—are the lifeblood of our organization.  As our Chairman reminded us, your generosity is key to helping us achieve our goals.  This year, our Conference marks the start of our Heritage Fund drive, details of which can be found in your registration packet and throughout this room.  I can neither confirm nor deny reports that Laurence has been slipping copies under your pillow in your hotel rooms, but I can assure you of this: your Heritage Fund gift—over and above your continued membership—is necessary to the continued survival and strength of the International Churchill Society.  Please give as generously as you can.

Before we proceed I wish to take a look into the future, and invite you all to join us for the 36th International Churchill Conference, to be held on 29-31 October 2019 in Washington, D.C., and the 37th, to be held at Churchill College, Cambridge University, in 2020.

And now, let us begin our own walk with destiny, and enjoy a weekend of enlightenment and fellowship in this beautiful and historic place.

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.