Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Winston Churchill

Today is the birthday of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, born almost exactly 100 years before me in 1874.

Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the last century and among the most influential persons in British history. He was also a respected statesman, orator, historian, writer and artist – and the only British prime minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940-45 and 1951-55) and died 46 years ago.

Today was also the launch of the Ottawa Winston Churchill Society, founded by local Churchill scholar Ronald Cohen, and rung in at Earnscliffe, the residence of the British High Commissioner, who recently said of Churchill, “He wasn’t perfect and nor were his policies, but he had many good qualities, chief among them honesty and strong leadership.”

Churchill began his career as a journalist and writer. His was praised by the Nobel Foundation for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about political leaders lately – what with the shenanigans among the American Republican leadership contenders and more close to home the leadership campaign for the New Democrats. How I wish we had a strong, visionary leader in Canada – someone to raise our eyes toward a higher goal, to inspire and to lead.

It’s almost as if no leader dares to be too visionary, to wax poetic or to engage in philosophic reflections. Churchill wrote about Canada: “A wild beauty haunts these solitudes, so plentifully supplied with water, so clothes in forests”. Can you imagine such poetry coming from a political leader of our day?

“We are crossing a petrified sea whose waves are rocks, whose foam is forest,” he wrote of northern Ontario. Having driven though this land of endless forests, rocks and trees, his words resonate with me. How strange that a British statesman who visited our country only 9 times should be able to describe this land in a way I have never heard from a politician of our own.

In my search for inspirational leaders, must I turn to the past?

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