PHOTO: Randolph Churchill on Friday afternoon at The Churchill Society of Tennessee’s regional conference in Franklin.
By LANDON WOODROOF
At The Churchill Society of Tennessee’s regional conference on Friday, Winston Churchill’s great-grandson shared knowledge and insight into powerful leader’s life and legacy.
Winston Churchill was a prodigious learner, and one of the subjects that most keenly interested him was the American Civil War.
The interest can be traced partially back to his mother, who was an American.
“She brought Winston up on the history of America…and that remained with him for the rest of his life,” Randolph Churchill said Friday afternoon at the historic Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7 in Franklin.
Randolph Churchill, who is also president of the International Churchill Society, ventured here from overseas to participate in The Churchill Society of Tennessee’s first-ever regional conference, which is being held through Sunday in Franklin and Nashville.
The conference brings together Churchill-admiring history buffs for various presentations and discussions devoted primarily to Winston Churchill’s fascination with the American Civil War and also his love of music.
“It’s absolutely wonderful that Dr. John Mather has brought us all together,” Randolph Churchill said, referring to the president of The Churchill Society of Tennessee. “And of course my great-grandfather loved the history of the American Civil War and of course around Nashville and Franklin is the epicenter.”
Winston Churchill devoted a good chunk of his magisterial “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples” to the American Civil War.
From that war, Randolph Churchill believes his great-grandfather drew lessons about “the strength of your democracy, the leaders, the rights of the people; these were all things that really interested Churchill about leadership and democracy.”
Winston Churchill was more than just a student of history, though, he was also a believer in it. His deep understanding of the subject gave him a context in which to better understand human motivation and the many challenges that faced him as a leader.
Of course, his leadership of the United Kingdom came near a moment of great crisis, as German aggression increasingly threatened the Western world.
Randolph Churchill would recall that time Friday evening, when he took the stage at the Nashville Symphony as part of the Violins of Hope concert. The concert featured performances played on instruments used by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.
Randolph Churchill delivered his great-grandfather’s famous “blood, toil, sweat and tears” speech, which Winston Churchill gave shortly after he was first appointed prime minister.
“It’s a lovely way of capturing Churchill’s interest in art, his humanity and his care for the plight of the Jewish people,” Randolph Churchill said.
For all his knowledge of and devotion to his great-grandfather, Randolph Churchill never actually got a chance to know the man. He was born in 1965, two days before Winston Churchill’s death.
“It’s a lovely link to have the one generation coming in as one is departing,” Randolph Churchill said. “It’s a lovely thread in the tapestry.”
While he did not know his great-grandfather, Randolph Churchill nevertheless considers himself fortunate to have interacted with many of Winston Churchill’s friends and associates.
“Where I’ve been privileged is I’ve met so many people who have worked with and spent time with him, so I’ve heard so many of the stories firsthand,” he said.
Mather, the president of The Churchill Society of Tennessee, did actually get to meet Winston Churchill once. He remembers the exact date: Nov. 23, 1961. The former prime minister was visiting the Harrow School and Mather was an 18-year-old student.
Mather boldly sat next to Winston Churchill at the headmaster’s house and proceeded to try to strike up a conversation, which was thwarted by the fact that Winston Churchill had neglected to wear his hearing aids that day.
Mather’s love for Churchill, though, started even younger. He was born in the U.K. in 1943, in the midst of war. His mother would later tell him of the strength she drew from hearing the prime minister’s stirring words of encouragement during those dark years.
“His calls to arms inspired us all,” she said.
Mather was there at the beginning of The Churchill Society of Tennessee’s inception.
“We got going in the spring of 2016 over here at Landmark Books,” he said. A group of about six people began to meet regularly to share their affection for all things Churchill.
The society has taken off since then.
“From spring of 2016 we’ve been on a roll accumulating folks,” Mather said. “We’re up to 160-odd primary members now.”
The society holds several events a year: one in the spring, a “Buckingham Palace tea party” in the summer, and a banquet in the fall.
Mather is not sure if the conference will be an annual event—they may do it every couple of years instead—but he said that so far, this year’s inaugural edition has been a resounding success.
Attendees and speakers have come in from all over the country and the world.
“Everyone’s really engaged,” Mather said.
That includes Randolph Churchill, who was obviously enjoying himself Friday. He is happy to be a modern-day ambassador for his grandfather’s legacy, and he is happy to be in Tennessee this weekend.
“It’s a real thrill,” he said. “I’ve not had the option of coming to Nashville and seeing a great part of your country with so much personality and history. It’s just a real thrill to see the beauty of the countryside.”