Churchill's great-grandson discusses Winston's legacy in America

Friday, April 23, 2010 | 6:27 p.m. CDT; updated 2:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 24, 2010
Jonathan Sandys, great-grandson of Winston Churchill and chairman of Churchill’s Britain Foundation, speaks at the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton on Friday morning. During his first visit to Fulton, Sandys discussed about his great-grandfather's legacy and his own experience with the organization that helps children struggling with learning disabilities and illiteracy.

FULTON — Jonathan Sandys never got a chance to meet his great-grandfather. Sandys was born in 1975, 10 years after the man died — and he’s “really annoyed” about it.

You might be annoyed, too, if, like Sandys, your great-grandfather was former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“I think we would have had a lot of interesting things to talk about,” said Sandys, who spoke Friday at the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton.

He has made his great-grandfather’s legacy a part of his life’s work. In November 2008, he founded the nonprofit Churchill’s Britain Foundation, based in Houston.

The foundation is focused on making positive changes in education by redeveloping teaching models to support multiple teaching styles. This mission was inspired by Sandys’ background of learning difficulties and was designed around a message of hope taken from his great-grandfather’s experiences.

In Friday's speech, Sandys stood at the same podium from which his great-grandfather delivered the famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.

“It’s exciting to be here, touching a piece of history,” Sandys said, running his hands over the heavy, wooden stand. “I feel the life force of Winston Churchill here, and it’s not just because I’m his grandson.”

The news conference coincided with the college’s alumni weekend and Sandys’ trip to mid-Missouri, where he is being honored with the Edwin P. Hubble Medal of Initiative. The award was scheduled to be given at a dinner on Friday in Marshfield.

Before meeting with the press, the Brit-turned-Texan got a chance to explore the expansive museum, which was “absolutely fantastic,” he said, adding that he appreciated the interactivity of the exhibits.

“He was very keen to come and have a look,” museum director Rob Havers said. “It was great to have him here and have another generation of Churchills connected to Fulton."

Havers said the museum will continue to work with Sandys and his foundation in the future to find new ways to promote Churchill’s continued relevance.

An education

Jonathan Sandys grew up hearing stories about Winston Churchill's life and work. The more he learned, he said, the more similarities he discovered between himself and his great-grandfather.

Both Sandys and Churchill struggled with learning disabilities during their adolescences; Sandys is dyslexic, and Churchill had a speech impediment. Both were labeled as “thick and stupid idiots,” Sandys said.

Churchill refused to be defeated by his stutter. He “dug his heels in” and probably told people to “bugger off,” Sandys said, smiling. Sandys himself was less persistent and dropped out of school when he was 17.

He said he hopes that teaching younger generations about Churchill’s perseverance and ultimate success will inspire discouraged students to not give up on their education.

“Look at the man that he became,” Sandys said. “Everything starts with an education.”

Friday's news conference took a more serious turn when Sandys spoke directly to the several cameras, addressing Gov. Jay Nixon and his announcement Thursday about additional budget cuts affecting education. Cutting funds for education is not a long-term solution to economic problems, he said.

“I am concerned about the danger it presents to education in Missouri," Sandys said.

Why Winston, why now

Jonathan Sandys has launched a petition addressed to President Barack Obama to return a bust of Winston Churchill to the White House.

The bust, created by Joseph Epstein, sat in the Oval Office during the Bush years. It was removed a few days before Obama took office, which Sandys took as a personal insult, pointing to his great-grandfather’s global impact during World War II as justification.

“Without the life of Winston Churchill, the work of Abraham Lincoln, of George Washington, of John Adams, would all be for nothing,” Sandys said. “We’d all be German; we’d all be Nazis. Or Communists.

Winston Churchill is the man who helped us all realize our freedoms,” he said.

Sandys said he thinks it is his “great responsibility” to live a life that reflects well on Churchill.

“If I could be one-tenth of the man my great-grandfather was," he said, "I would be very pleased and very proud.”

A family affair

Jonathan and Sara Sandys married four weeks ago; their romance developed around a shared reverence for the life and work of Churchill.

“I was in awe of the man since I was a young child,” said Sara Sandys, who videotaped her husband's presentation. “My education centered on great historical figures.”

The two met last June, when Sara Sandys was running a British business based in Houston and a friend approached her about working with Churchill’s Britain Foundation.

“I got involved with the foundation before I ever got involved with Jonathan,” she said, joking that she thought he was rather annoying when they first met. “But it was love at second sight.”

Sara Sandys now runs the business side of the foundation, doing outreach and public relations.

The foundation’s mission is to help create “education as it should be,” she said.

“As it stands right now, children are taught on just one level,” she said. “That alienates children, not just those with learning challenges, but children that learn differently.”

Currently, Sara is working on a development campaign to build the world’s first virtual reality museum in Houston. Projects such as a virtual reality museum are an important step toward the foundation’s goals, she said.

“We think it’s so, so important to put education back in the hands of educators – parents and teachers,” she said. “Something like the museum creates a place where children can learn through interaction."

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