Catherine Zoë Spencer Churchill, 1968-2022: A Remembrance
This memorial to Catherine Churchill was first published by the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. For the original with more images please click here.
President Arnn and her friends at Hillsdale College mourn the loss of Catherine Churchill, gone far too young at 53. From the end of 2020 she fought through months of intense treatments for cancer. She remained uncomplaining and upbeat, as she always was through life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Randolph and their family. Our own grief, though not as great as his, is deeply felt.
Born in Nassau, Bahamas, Catherine was 17 one enchanted evening when she and Randolph were the first to arrive at a London dance. “It was just weeks after Catherine’s 17th birthday. I was a 20-year-old scamp naval officer training to be a navigator and gunnery officer,” Randolph recalled. “We danced and chatted the whole night and it was a day I hoped would never end. I was instantly captivated by her natural charm, beauty and style.” They married when she was 23, with a reception at Chartwell. Finding a home at nearby Crockham Hill, they raised four children. There Catherine cultivated her “miraculous garden” filled with flowers and wildlife, where she loved to sketch.
The art historian
Catherine’s particular interest was Sir Winston’s paintings. She had studied art history at the British Institute in Florence, worked in the Victorian paintings department of Sotheby’s and the Director’s Office of the National Arts Collection, now the Art Fund. She brought these credentials to the research and cataloguing of Sir Winston’s artworks, and was invaluable aid to Paul Rafferty in his recent masterful book, Winston Churchill Painting on the Riviera. Paul writes:
Catherine and Marina Brounger, Randolph’s sister, ran Churchill Heritage (the licensing agency for Churchill’s art). They sent all the images I needed. Catherine was a skilled diplomat when controversy arose about the authenticity of a painting. She always helped us arrive at the right conclusion. She and Randolph were as one in helping me get to what I needed, including the advice of knowledgeable scholars like David Coombs. Catherine also wrote letters of support from the family and Churchill Heritage when I needed to gain access to a private villa or chateau.
With each new discovery I would go first to Catherine. Almost like children, we excitedly pondered every new puzzle piece, and how it fit the whole. It is very sad that I can no longer share these mysteries. Ultimately, Catherine was a hub, gatekeeper, a partner for me to confide in. Without Catherine and Randolph’s support throughout, I really don’t think I could have managed to complete the book as I did. If I ever get a statue of Sir Winston placed in one of the places he loved to paint, I will dedicate it to Catherine.
Everyone who knew her has a special memory. Barbara’s and mine is from our first meeting shortly after her marriage, when she, Randolph and Robert Hardy were dinner guests at one of our Churchill Tours. The venue was the Olde Bell at Hurley, Berkshire, which Catherine joked was “one of a score of the oldest inns in England.” She radiated warmth and enthusiasm, and amazed us with her knowledge of Sir Winston’s career as a painter.
Her family, of course, knew her on a more personal and practical level, as her daughter Zöe said: “We have lost our spider-killer, spell checker, head chef, role model, confidant, peacemaker, the glue that keeps this family together and much, much more. Mum, you have taught us all everything we know. Serena, Alice, Johnnie and I couldn’t feel luckier to have had you as our mum and we will love and miss you forever.”
Randolph Churchill concluded his eulogy:
Catherine was and always will be my rock. She was my safe harbour and best friend. She was the constant sunshine in my life, the zest and happiness of each day. I always called her “Bears,” and she gave me the constant warmth and hugs of a loving bear. She gave me the most wonderful happy family. For me, Catherine will live on in [our children] Serena, Zöe, Alice, and John. They all share her happy and engaging disposition, love of life, and care of others. Catherine was the one and only love of my life. I will always look to the stars and see her on a distant tropical island, with a hibiscus in her hair, a bird of paradise in her hand, and a smile on her face. She will always be in my heart.
Rest in peace, dear Catherine.