Grandchildren of Churchill and Truman Talk Poker, Painting, and Politics

While much of the discussion during the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech focused on his prose, the Cold War, and other details of historic significance, one of Churchill’s granddaughters and the grandson of President Harry S. Truman took a lighter, more casual approach in discussing their grandfathers’ legacies.

They chatted about poker, painting, and politics, among other topics.

When it came to poker, Truman enjoyed playing the game as a means to unwind, according to his grandson, actor and author Clifton Truman Daniel, of Chicago, IL, who added that Truman was never a high-stakes poker player.

“My grandfather played as a way to relax, and by no means was it a way to make money,” he laughed. “Actually, they had a tradition where if anyone won out, they’d threw in a couple of nickels and dimes [for other players] to keep them in the game. No one really lost.”

On the 12-hour train trip from Washington, DC, to Fulton, MO, Churchill, Truman, and a few others played quite a bit of poker to pass the time. At one point along the trip, Churchill wasn’t getting many good poker hands, and excused himself to use the men’s room.

While he was gone, “My grandfather leaned in [to the other players] and said, ‘Let him win, hold back — it’s important,’” Daniel said. “I don’t know if they let him win outright, but they let him back in the game.”

Daniel was joined in the livestream by artist and sculptor Edwina Sandys, one of Churchill’s granddaughters. Sandys lives in New York City but is a regular visitor to Fulton, Westminster College, and America’s National Churchill Museum.

Their discussion was livestreamed to kick off the March 5-6 commemoration festivities. Joining them were Kurt Graham, Director of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO, and Timothy Riley, the Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of America’s National Churchill Museum on Westminster’s campus.

Sandys pointed out that Churchill was surprisingly voted out of office as prime minister in 1945, after being so successful and widely popular during World War II.

“The transition to being out of office took quite getting used to, and he didn’t like it at all,” Sandys said, adding that he soon found enjoyment in painting.

“He had many, many hobbies, or pleasures — he was a man in full,” said Sandys, who created the Breakthrough sculpture on  Westminster’s campus with eight sections of the Berlin Wall after its fall in 1989. “He liked everything … except awful people.”

Riley said Churchill spent time in Miami Beach, FL, where he composed several drafts of the “Sinews of Peace” speech, to which Sandys interjected, “He really did like Miami. He liked the good weather and the ocean.”

Graham explained that Churchill and Truman first met during the Potsdam Conference in Germany near the end of World War II in 1945. Truman had only been vice president for 82 days before suddenly being thrust into the role as president after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death.

He said Churchill was initially skeptical of Truman’s leadership abilities.

“Truman and Churchill didn’t really know one another, and it was Truman’s first real political exposure on the world stage,” Graham said. “It was a striking contrast because FDR and Churchill were cut from the same cloth — they came from the same world view.”

He added that Churchill initially looked down his nose at Truman, but he soon realized Truman was a good leader and a skilled politician. The two would soon develop a strong trust in each other.

“My grandfather had a great respect for Sir Winston, beyond his abilities,” Daniel said. “He thought that he was a thoroughly decent human being and that his interest was not only in the English people but the people of the world. They both saw a larger picture and the greater good.”

The complete conversation is a 40-minute segment that is permanently housed on the website of America’s National Churchill Museum.

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