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Scott Bruun: The Importance of Winston Churchill in Portland

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Winston Churchill Statue, via iStock

My oldest daughter was in tears when she got off the school bus that day.  In fact she was nearly inconsolable.  This was several years ago now, when she was in fifth grade, but I remember it like it was yesterday. You see up to that point my daughter had usually worn her hair long and thick.  But that day, owing to the haircut her parents had insisted upon, she went to school for the first time in her life with short hair.

Well kids will be kids, and boys will be boys.  And it just so happened that the boy my daughter had a crush on, one who also happened to ride her same school bus, decided to tease my daughter about her short hair all the ride home that day. 

That evening at the dinner table, after she had calmed a bit, we had a long discussion about boys, teasing, and the “sticks and stones” stuff.  To cheer her up, I also told her a famous story of Winston Churchill.  The one where Churchill is purportedly intoxicated in public, and is accused of such by a female member of parliament.  “Winston, you are drunk!” she said. To which Churchill immediately responded, “I am drunk. Tomorrow I’ll be sober but you will still be ugly.”

She loved that story, and on the school bus the next day she was prepared.  When the same boy began to tease her again, she composed herself and calmly said: “My hair is short.  It will grow back but you will still be a dork.”  Apparently the boy was speechless.

Words simply cannot describe a father’s pride.

Far beyond his quick and transferable wit, Churchill remains a remarkable figure – and arguably the greatest statesman of the 20th Century. Courage, resolve, brilliance and an unprecedented ability to communicate were just a few of the many attributes that made Churchill and his leadership so uniquely inspirational.

November 30, 2014 will mark Winston Churchill’s 140th birthday.  For the last twenty-three of those, including a black-tie event scheduled this week at The Arlington Club, the Chartwell Society of Oregon has been celebrating Churchill’s birthday and monumental legacy.  

The event in Portland this year will include toasts, short speeches, and a dinner comprised of Churchill’s favorite dishes and imbibements – including Yorkshire pudding and Hine cognac. 

All things Churchill will be celebrated, but not just Churchill.  The dinner also celebrates the legacies of King George the Sixth, Charles DeGaulle, Ike, and President Franklin Roosevelt.  

Most years, the toasts for King George and DeGaulle are delivered by Oregon’s Honorary Consul for Great Britain and the Republic of France, respectively. Last year, the toast for President Roosevelt was given by State Rep. Brent Barton, while this year’s toast to the same will be given by Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, the successful chief petitioner of Oregon’s recently passed Ballot Measure 89. 

Also last year, to mark the fifty-year anniversary of his death and to acknowledge his lifelong reverence for Churchill, a moving tribute was given in the memory of President John F. Kennedy.

So what’s the point?  Why come together every year to formally celebrate Churchill and others?  Well, if it’s just an occasion to dress up, eat well, and reminisce about things that most of us were not alive to experience, there would be little point at all.  Instead, the purpose of the Portland dinner, the purpose of recalling the great people and events of history, is to inform the present; to help people understand the history that created the world as it is, and use those lessons to better guide the future as we might want it to be. Or at least avoid the same mistakes.

When looking at challenges at home and abroad, are we not well served by understanding history?  How we got here?  And if we do understand history, then is there really anything in the world that is, whether good or bad, inexplicable? 

Churchill thought not.  He was a devout student of history.  And as we move forward we could do worse than remembering his history.  Remembering the man who voiced the confidence to “never surrender” to tyranny.  The man who could find humor in most situations, and help my daughter find hers. Even the man who had the ability and humility to change his mind as facts changed, believing it “more important to be correct than consistent.”

Imagine what our state, our country and this world would look like if a few more of our leaders remembered those timeless traits.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs, yet dutifully commutes every day to Portland, where he earns his living on the fifth floor of Big Pink. 


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