Churchill: Walking with Destiny, Andrew Roberts’s outstanding biography was at Don Cline’s bedside, and he almost made it through. I opened his copy to where the last bookmark fell. It was January 1944, a scene redolent of the fascination we shared. The writer was Lady Diana Cooper: “There was our old baby in his rompers, ten-gallon cowboy hat and very ragged oriental dressing gown, health, vigour and excellent spirits. Never have I seen him spin more fantastic stuff, the woof of English and the warp of slang.”
That passage will now always remind me of Don, who himself spun fantastic stuff. Never until the end had I seen him in less than “health, vigour and excellent spirits.” Once I had the idea that I could outride him on a road bike. But on 50-mile charity rides, I could never catch him. So I suggested we cycle from my house to his, Moultonborough to Andover, NH. It’s 45 miles, but I knew it was mostly downhill. I was certain I had the advantage. Two old men (we were in our sixties) who should know better. Not even breathing hard at the end, Don pretended not to notice I was whacked. Instead he broke out a bottle of Pol Roger to celebrate.
7 August 1949 – 20 September 2019. Don had far too little time, yet he showed us all how much you can pack in. He was an avid bagpiper, woodworker, boatbuilder, world traveler, cook and photographer. He skippered their Cape Dory on adventuresome sails from Manhattan’s East River to the New England coast. “Maineiacs” like the rest of us, he and Lorraine even owned an island bungalow you could only reach by boat. It had once belonged to the L.L. Bean family. That’s a recap, but not nearly all.
* * *
Don graduated from Hiram College in 1971, became a videographer, moved to New Hampshire, met Lorraine, and became father of two daughters, Corinne and Meredith. Don joined her company, Cline Design, engaged in marketing for commercial construction companies throughout North America. That was in the 1980s, and he was just getting going.
As founder of Cline Conservators, Don was expert in the reconstruction of stained glass. He restored stained glass windows for New Hampshire churches and private homes, as well as historic buildings. His work can notably be seen today at Castle in the Clouds here in Moultonborough, and St. Paul’s School in Concord.
Don loved bagpipes and was President of the New Hampshire Pipes and Drums. So it never occurred to me that until much later, he’d never been to Scotland. He he loved England just as much. Like me, drove the odd Land Rover, because it was British and would go anywhere. Typically, he took a Land Rover course to enable him to do just that. He even made me tune in the rakehell British drivers on the BBC show Top Gear.
* * *
Of course our Anglophilia led to Churchill, whose woof and warp snared us both. His photographer’s eye made him a collector of Churchill press photos, distributed by the score when new, but valued collector’s items today. A few months ago, seeing the trail narrowing appreciably, Don promised them to the Hillsdale College Churchill Project, which I have the honor to serve. They join a distinguished archive led by the Martin Gilbert Papers, the Ronald Cohen Churchill writings collection, and Ron’s Churchill audio archive.
I naturally mentioned the usual tax advantages of such gifts, but Don laughed that off with a couldn’t-care-less. I think he wanted his collection to go where it would do the most good. It will. Hillsdale’s mission, as a center for the study of Churchill’s statesmanship, is carved in granite. Don knew, and I know, that fifty years on, it will still be doing what it does now to educate future generations. It was a fine thing for Don and Lorraine to join us laborers, as Martin Gilbert used to say, in the Churchill vineyard.
And now the drums and pipes are still. The fun and the laughter, the excitement of shared discovery, the noisy accomplishment of things great and little, all these are now silent. In the stillness are only echoes and reminders. Each of us whose life was touched by Don has their memories. And a man never dies as long as he is remembered. Scots Wha Hae, my old friend.