More than 350 scholars and enthusiasts of British statesman Sir Winston S. Churchill, known as “Churchillians,” flocked to Washington for the 30th International Churchill Conference hosted by the George Washington University last week.
The conference commemorated the new partnership between the university and the Churchill Centre to honor “Britain’s finest son” with the National Churchill Library and Center, a seat of scholarship and archival materials to be housed at the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
A formal dedication of a bust of Sir Winston took place at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday prior to the start of the conference, kicking off three days of events to honor the legacy of the world leader.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of history’s true love stories, between a great statesman and a nation he called ‘the Great Republic,’” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said as he presided over the ceremony.
Mr. Boehner was joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., members of the Churchill family, lead singer of The Who Roger Daltrey, University Librarian and Vice Provost for Libraries Geneva Henry and GW President Steven Knapp at the dedication.
The statue will be permanently displayed in the National Statuary Hall Collection alongside other great leaders including university namesake, George Washington.
“Just as a statue of Lincoln stands outside Parliament, this bust renews the ties between our peoples and reminds us that the blessings we often take for granted were won through terrific struggle,” Mr. Boehner added.
The spirit of collaboration continued at an evening reception and dinner hosted by British Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott and his wife, alumna Lady Susan Westmacott, M.A. `88, at the British Embassy and attended by Dr. Knapp and his wife, Diane Robinson Knapp.
"I am very pleased that the George Washington University is partnering with the Churchill Centre to launch the National Churchill Library and Center, which I hope will broaden the depth of understanding between our two nations through the study of this extraordinary man--politician, author, artist--who played an unparalleled role in the outcome of World War II," Lady Westamacott said. "As a GW aluma, I cannot think of a better home for this research center and look forward to seeing it become reality, along with the exceptional scholarship and programming that it will engender."
The conference reaffirmed GW’s commitment to supporting the legacy of Mr. Churchill and featured a salon, a gala, a dinner and presentations examining his contributions to literature, his relationship with numerous U.S. presidents and his leadership as Britain’s wartime prime minister from 1940-1945.
On Friday morning, Ms. Henry, GW Provost Steven Lerman and Churchill Centre Chairman Laurence Geller began the conference with updates on the developing National Churchill Library and Center at a panel moderated by Associate Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Christopher H. Sterling, who chaired the conference.
Dr. Lerman welcomed the Churchillians and outlined the university’s efforts to leverage this partnership in preparing the next generation of leaders.
“One of the four pillars of the university as we approach our 200th year is citizenship and leadership,” Dr. Lerman said. “The university will continue to prepare students to take on leadership roles and to function effectively in a participatory democracy in their home countries and in an increasingly inter-connected and globalized world.”
Mr. Geller was enthusiastic about the project, citing the university’s paramount location within Washington, reputation as a top research institution and dedicated faculty and staff as a draw for the Churchill Centre.
“Our mission is to educate the public about Churchill, about his leadership and what it means to the modern world,” Mr. Geller said. “The center will be here on this fine campus, and I couldn’t be more proud,” he added.
Randolph Churchill, the great-grandson of Sir Winston S. Churchill agreed.
“Churchillian projects are often grand and illustrious in size, and I am very glad that this project is so perfectly formed,” Mr. Churchill said. “Our family is so excited about the plans being developed to give us a proper home.”
Mr. Churchill also announced a major philanthropic commitment to the project from the Churchill family, which was promptly matched by Mr. Geller and then, again, by another a member of the Churchill Centre’s Board of Trustees.
The Churchill Centre, in cooperation with GW, seeks to raise $8 million to make the project a reality. The four components of the project include renovating the street-level floor of the Gelman Library to include a Churchill reading room and exhibit gallery, which will host special events and public lectures.
Also included in the project are an endowed professorship in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Department of History to facilitate scholarship and original research, an endowed curatorship position to oversee the collections and their preservation, and a fund to build a collection of Churchill research materials and provide programming for future scholars and the public.
“This center will be a forum to bring students, faculty and outside leaders together in collaboration,” Ms. Henry said.
Dr. Knapp reaffirmed the university’s mission in partnering with the Churchill Centre at the final gala dinner, held at the Fairmont Hotel on Saturday. Alumnus David Eisenhower, J.D. `76, offered the keynote address.
“George Washington and the Churchill Centre have come together around a shared aspiration: to create a new, permanent space devoted to the study of Winston Churchill,” Dr. Knapp said. “The National Churchill Library and Center will provide a unique opportunity for our university community and the broader public to become more fully aware of this truly transformational figure in all his rich and complicated glory.”