Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Churchill Series – Aug. 23, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

This is the third in a five-part series intended to refute the assertions of some historians that Churchill was insensitive to the problems and accomplishments of ordinary people, particularly ones who worked for him.

The claims of those who feel that way were presented in the first post. Yesterday’s post discussed legislation Churchill took the lead in supporting and implementing during the early 20th century. The laws concerned, among other things, provisions for labor exchanges to reduce unemployment, penal reform and old age pensions. Churchill often said when he thought of those who’d benefited from old age pensions, his nurse, Elizabeth Ann Everest, would come to mind.

Everest died before the passage of government administered pensions was put in place but she was precisely the type of person Churchill was seeking to help when he fought to put in place the old age pension program.

Mrs. Everest entered service with the Spencer Churchill family when Winston was six weeks old and she was forty-four. She was intensely devoted to him and his younger brother, John (Jack), born when Winston was four.

Churchill said he loved his mother “but at a distance.” Violet Asquith, who was Churchill's friend from youth until his death wrote: "[During Winston’s] solitary childhood and unhappy school days, Mrs. Everest was his comforter, his strength and stay, his one source of unfailing human understanding. She was the fireside at which he dried his tears and warmed his heart. She was the night light by his bed. She was security."

It wasn’t just Mrs. Everest who helped Churchill learn even in youth about the lives of ordinary people. During holidays when Lord Randolph and Jennie were busy with social engagements or travel, Mrs. Everest often took Winston and Jack to stay with her sister and her sister’s husband. He was a retired prison worker who appears to have been a very kind man who spent a lot of time with Churchill. They would often walk together on the cliffs overlooking the Channel. When Churchill was a little older the man began to interest Churchill in history.

Churchill was in his teens when Jennie, to save money, decided to discharge Mrs. Everest. At her age - she was now about sixty - it would be hard to find employment. She did not have means to support herself.

With Winston in the lead, both brothers raised Hades. They badgered Jennie and other family members until Churchill’s grandmother found a place for Mrs. Everest in her house.

A few years later during her last illness, Churchill arranged for medical care she could not afford (a bedside nurse and visitation by a specialist). When Mrs. Everest died he arranged and paid for her funeral as well as the headstone which marks her grave. You can view it here.

Churchill could not have loved and helped Mrs. Everest, and been tended by her and her family without, in the process, learning about the lives of “ordinary people.”

Tomorrow we’ll see Churchill extend hospitality, care and compassion to two people most others would have just run off.