Catherine Zoë Spencer Churchill, 1968-2022: A Remembrance

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.

CatherineBorn 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 Riv­ieraPaul 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.

Memories

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.

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