Churchill Memories of the Mount Washington and Bretton Woods

Churchill Memories of the Mount Washington and Bretton Woods

Read­ers react­ed kind­ly to my essay on Alis­tair Cooke. I ven­ture to add some pri­vate Churchillian moments at the Mount Wash­ing­ton Hotel at Bret­ton Woods. I sent these to still-liv­ing par­tic­i­pants, who urged I pub­lish them—with strate­gic edits to pro­tect the inno­cent.

“I’ve been using microphones before you were born”

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Alis­tair Cooke at the micro­phone, with Con­man­der Lar­ry Kryske USN, Mount Wash­ing­ton, 1988. (Bob LaPree)

Com­man­der Lar­ry Kryske USN was our toast­mas­ter for the 1988 Mount Wash­ing­ton Churchill din­ners. I remem­ber par­tic­u­lar­ly his naval dec­la­ra­tion after din­ner: “The smok­ing lamp is light­ed.” (How odd that sounds now! In my expe­ri­ence, group smok­ing stopped almost dead around 1990.) Lar­ry sends this amus­ing mem­o­ry of that night, 27 August:

Dur­ing his address, Sir Alis­tair appeared to be hav­ing trou­ble with the mic. As toast­mas­ter, I was sit­ting next to him at the head table and noticed the vol­ume knob was turned way too low. As I reached over to adjust it, he said, “Don’t touch that. I’ve been using micro­phones before you were born.”

In those days, as you notice from the old pho­to, we had snooty head tables. The record audi­ence of 400 stood as we very impor­tant poohbahs marched in. My friend Bill Ives was fol­low­ing the late John Edi­son, a dis­tin­guished Canadian—whose braces broke. So Bill had to walk close behind him hold­ing his trousers up until we sat down. (To both their cred­its, nobody noticed, and the word didn’t escape until John embar­rass­ing­ly con­fessed while seek­ing a new pair of braces, i.e., sus­penders.)

Alistair and “The Scream”

I loved and admired Alis­tair Cooke. Polit­i­cal­ly (though it wasn’t too appar­ent) he was a lib­er­al Demo­c­rat until late in life, when he grew more con­ser­v­a­tive. But on our last vis­it in Decem­ber 2003, anoth­er elec­tion was loom­ing, and he was keen about Ver­mont Gov­er­nor Howard Dean. Alis­tair thought he was a sure-thing nom­i­nee against Pres­i­dent Bush the Younger. Almost exact­ly a month lat­er, Dean com­mit­ted polit­i­cal harakiri by giv­ing the famous “scream” after the Iowa Cau­cus­es. Alas, Alis­tair died in March, so I nev­er found out if he changed his mind about Gov­er­nor Dean.

Not the President….

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Ambas­sador Paul H. Robin­son Jr., with Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, 11 Sep­tem­ber 1985 (White House pho­to, pub­lic domain)

That Churchill con­fer­ence was a two-night affair, so the ques­tion arose: Whom would we get for the oth­er night? Thanks to for­mer Ambas­sador to Cana­da Paul Robin­son, we almost got the Pres­i­dent. Ronald Rea­gan was a great admir­er of Alis­tair Cooke, and it nev­er occurred to us to won­der: He wouldn’t spare us two nights, so then what? Would AC have intro­duced him? But we didn’t wor­ry about those things. If you get the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, you work around it.

The White House appoint­ments staff tried hard to arrange it. I still have Pres­i­dent Reagan’s let­ter send­ing his regrets. As we lat­er learned, it was lucky for us. The Secret Ser­vice cased the Mount Wash­ing­ton ball­room. They said they’d need a fin­ished par­ti­tion for RR to walk to his seat unob­served. Its con­struc­tion, along with trav­el and accom­mo­da­tion for agents, would be on us. We had about $300 in the bank, so we breathed a sigh of relief.

…but the Governor

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Gov. John H. Sununu, 75th Gov­er­nor of New Hamp­shire, 1983-89. (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

Our speak­er was then-New Hamp­shire Gov­er­nor John H. Sununu, who gave a nice address, under the gun by hav­ing to fol­low Alis­tair Cooke. He was proud that New Hamp­shire had made Churchill an hon­orary cit­i­zen before the USA. I asked him what it’s like run­ning a state with (still) no income or sales tax. “You can’t take your eyes off he ledger for a day,” he said. “If you do, you’ll lose your shirt.”

Gov­er­nor Sununu has a Churchill-like, ecu­meni­cal sense of polit­i­cal humor.  He was thanked by Ambas­sador Robin­son, a stal­wart Repub­li­can. The 1988 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was on, so Paul blithe­ly pro­ceed­ed to endorse Vice-Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush. Canada’s fed­er­al elec­tion was com­ing up too, and our audi­ence includ­ed many from north of the bor­der. Paul peered out at them. “As for Cana­di­ans present, I don’t have to say I hope you’ll all vote Con­ser­v­a­tive on behalf of my dear friend Bri­an Mul­roney.”

The Gov­er­nor remarked, not quite sot­to voce: “There goes the 5000-mile unde­fend­ed bor­der.”

It was all in good fun though I’m sure I heard from every Demo­c­rat, Lib­er­al and NDP sup­port­er at the Mount Wash­ing­ton that night.

Mary at the Mount

Our last and best Mount Wash­ing­ton mem­o­ry involves Sir Winston’s daugh­ter, Lady Soames. By 2005 we knew that at 83, the Que­bec Churchill Con­fer­ence might be her last abroad. “Do come,” we said. “We’ll dri­ve you down to New Hamp­shire amid the autumn colo(u)rs and get you to Boston for your flight home.”

She came. In Que­bec, every­one want­ed to shake her hand. Clus­ters of peo­ple trailed in her wake. As usu­al she took a rather more detached view than some of our con­fer­ence speak­ers. We were seat­ed togeth­er when Pro­fes­sor War­ren Kim­ball sug­gest­ed that the Sec­ond Que­bec Con­fer­ence in 1944 pro­duced “noth­ing of sig­nif­i­cance.” She leaned over and gave me a very earthy syn­onym for “rub­bish.” I told War­ren lat­er, and he has dined out on it ever since.

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RML and Ian Lang­worth with Lady Soames on one of her last vis­its to New Eng­land, 2005. For­give this lapse into self­ie-ness, but she was such a splen­did mem­o­ry….

Here in New Hamp­shire she was one of our first house­guests, up ear­ly in her dress­ing gown, sip­ping cof­fee. Over Barbara’s stel­lar break­fasts, she helped plan every day of the 2006 Churchill Tour of Eng­land, our next-to-last. We are an easy dri­ve from the Mount Wash­ing­ton, so we booked din­ner there. I asked the hotel if they might arrange a pri­vate tour for Win­ston Churchill’s daugh­ter. “How soon?” they replied.

* * *

On the way up I sug­gest­ed diplo­mat­ic strat­e­gy: “The Mount Wash­ing­ton believes your father stayed there in 1906. Of course it was the ‘oth­er’ Win­ston Churchill, the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist. But don’t spoil their fun.” “Cer­tain­ly not,” she said prim­ly.

Imme­di­ate­ly upon meet­ing the Mount Washington’s man­ag­er, Lady Soames spoke up. “I under­stand you think my Papa was here in 1906. I’m sor­ry, dear, that is just not pos­si­ble. That was, you know, the Amer­i­can Churchill. I’m told he was run­ning for Con­gress at the time. I believe he lost.”

I groaned. She grinned.

The Mount Wash­ing­ton bought us a bot­tle of wine but made me pay for din­ner, which I thought a bit chintzy. They did promise to change their offi­cial his­to­ry to name the Amer­i­can Churchill as a vis­i­tor. (I won­der if they ever did?) Mary Soames thought it “an amaz­ing hotel.” If her father actu­al­ly had vis­it­ed, she said, he’d have liked it fine. She returned home anx­ious to see her dog Prune and her dear pri­vate sec­re­tary Non­ie Chap­man. Quick­ly came the usu­al long let­ter in her “own paw,” express­ing thanks we didn’t deserve. It was she whom we need­ed to thank, for giv­ing us such delight for so many years.

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