Winston Churchill

Cecilia Sandys, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, speaks about the life of her grandfather and his leadership skills at the LBJ school on Monday afternoon. Sandys believes her grandfather’s influence and principles of leadership are still relevant today as they were in 1940.

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Sixty eight years after the close of World War II, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter said she believes his life and leadership skills are still valuable. 

Celia Sandys, his granddaughter, spoke in Bass Lecture Hall on Monday to tell stories of Churchill as a private and public figure.

Churchill, who was prime minister of Great Britain from 1940-45 and an influential world leader during World War II, is well-known for his famous speech, “The Sinews of Peace,” better known as the Iron Curtain Speech, given in Missouri in 1946. In the speech, Churchill acknowledged the divide between capitalist and communist countries: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Sandys said her grandfather’s influence demonstrates the power speeches have in determining public morale.

“It was during the second World War that my grandfather’s words really came to their own,” Sandys said. “Their impact was more powerful than any weapons … I believe his principles of leadership are as relevant today as they were in 1940 and are an inspiration to anyone in any field who aspires to lead.”

Beyond discussing his accomplishments as a political figure, Sandys also talked about Churchill as a private man and relayed her experience with him as her grandfather. She said she thought Churchill enjoyed being around his grandchildren because they did not see him as a political leader.

Psychology freshman Cesar Prieto attended Sandys’ lecture because he wanted to learn more about Churchill.

“The biggest thing for me about this lecture was seeing how Churchill was not only a great leader but also the type of person we should all aspire to be,” Prieto said.

Prieto said he was interested in reading Churchill’s books after attending the lecture.

“I think there’s the kind of education you get from books and the kind of education you get from real life,” Prieto said. “If you mix both of those you get a sense of what the real world is like.”

Among students and professors was the youngest audience member and “Churchill-buff,” fourth-grader Coley Cowden and his mother Heidi Cowden. 

Nine-year-old Coley Cowden chose to report on Churchill for his biography report at Regents School of Austin last year and has read several of Churchill’s books.

“He has a really good style of writing that I enjoy,” Coley Cowden said. “He finds a very good balance of not making it action-packed but at the same time is interesting.”

In my many years of teaching ancient mythology, I have absorbed, as I hope my students have, the important lessons about life that the original myth-makers embedded in their stories.

One lesson is to be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. A variant is to make sure you follow through on your side of whatever bargain you strike. A third is not to get too big for your britches — the Greeks called this hubris.

The immortal and ageless goddess Dawn falls in love with a handsome prince of Troy named Tithonus. She steals him away and asks Zeus to make him immortal. Zeus asks her, “Do you want anything else?” She says no.

Zeus makes Tithonus deathless, but not ageless. He grows older and older, shrivels up and finally turns into a chirping cicada — not what Dawn had in mind.

A similar fate befalls the Cumaean Sibyl. According to Ovid, Apollo loves the Sibyl so much that he offers to grant her one wish if she will make love to him. She asks to live as many years as the grains of sand she holds. When she later refuses to give up her virginity, Apollo gives her long life, but lets her, too, grow old.

Counterfactual history, like Winston Churchill’s famous 1931 essay “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg,” focuses on key moments and their consequences by wondering “What if?” What if Dawn had thought through her request? What if the Sibyl had followed through on her promise?

Given the major distraction that the poor performance of the Longhorns football team has become lately at our University, it is worth posing a big counterfactual historical question. What if Vince Young had not scored the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left in the 2006 Rose Bowl, considered by ESPN the fifth-greatest play in the history of
NCAA football?

The touchdown won the national title for the UT Longhorns, just weeks after William C. Powers, then dean of the UT Law School and long a sports enthusiast, was officially named the 28th president of UT-Austin. 

Winning the national championship was for head coach Mack Brown the NCAA sports equivalent of being head of a team of researchers awarded the Nobel Prize. As national champions, the football program brought in a bonanza in revenues from marketing souvenirs and our UT trademark.

The chief financial officer of the self-operating UT athletics program Ed Gobles has proclaimed, “We eat what we kill.” Translation: Whatever monies athletics raises, it spends. Athletics director DeLoss Dodds has crowed, “We are the Joneses.” 

The die was cast. From the Vince Young Rose Bowl onward, there has been no restraining athletics. Hubris has prevailed.

Stadium expansions, large salary increases for coaches — not only in football — and a $1 million annuity for the athletics director were approved by the cronies within the UT sports silo, the regents who attend football games in the president’s skybox or their own, and the wealthy donors who, according to a local sportswriter, really decide whether head coaches are hired and fired.

The sense was that we would win another national title.

And we almost did. The Longhorns lost to Alabama 37-21 in the national title game following the 2009 season. Trouble was, right before that loss, Mack Brown was given, over the strong protest of a core of faculty leaders, a $2 million raise. That set in motion the decamping of his heir apparent Will Muschamp.

Without Muschamp’s defensive coaching genius, the Longhorns’ fortunes have faded. Talk now is of winning Big XII titles. But this hope is almost counterfactual, given that teams coached by Mack Brown have only been Big XII champions twice in his 15 years at UT (2005 and 2009).

One more counterfactual thought: If UT had lost the 2006 Rose Bowl, perhaps Vince Young would have played another year of college football, reined in his hubris about his own abilities and faced the transition to the fame and fortune of professional football with more maturity.

One positive fact: Young has now earned his degree in youth and community studies and has a loving wife and child. He can do some real good in the world before old age overtakes him, as it overtook Tithonus, and overtakes us all, even our greatest athletes.

Palaima is the Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics.