Pulling the Strings Behind the Iron Curtain: How Former MTV CEO Bill Roedy Impacted the World ‘On the Backside’ and is Poised to Receive the Churchill Leadership Medal This Summer

Former MTV CEO Bill Roedy is perched attentively on the edge of a mahogany armchair in a small gallery at America’s National Churchill Museum (ANCM) on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Bright lights highlight his features as he leans forward, peering intently at a team of videographers.

Roedy could discuss his extremely successful career ― while onlookers force themselves not to interrupt with nosey questions about Bono or Bob Geldof ― but he is singularly focused on talking about the resilience of Winston Churchill.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Event in Honor of a Cultural Icon

In fact, Roedy’s appreciation of both Churchill and ANCM is so profound, the global icon is being recorded because he is receiving the Museum’s highest honor on June 12, 2024: the Churchill Leadership Medal.

The once-in-a-lifetime ceremony will take place in London, England, at the historic Guildhall. Registration and further information on the event can be found on Westminster’s website.

Planning an event across the pond is a bit of a logistics challenge for those behind the scenes at Westminster. But these challenges are nothing for the former MTV executive who brought music television to East Germany, opening up a window to the West and ultimately helping end the Cold War.

Roedy wouldn’t admit it, but his audacious approach to seemingly insurmountable obstacles would receive an appreciative nod from Churchill himself. As a matter of fact, Roedy and Churchill have a lot in common.

Retired Westminster President Barney Forsythe thinks so. He knows Roedy well. Forsythe was instrumental in asking Roedy to speak at the College more than a decade ago, and from there, Roedy was instrumental in fostering Westminster’s relationship with Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof, who spoke at, and received an honorary degree from, the College in 2014.

Forsythe met Roedy in the 1960s as cadets at West Point, running track together under a coach who formerly served in the 82nd Airborne as a master sergeant.

A Media Influencer

The former college president’s eyes sparkle as he describes a young Roedy operating under their coach’s eagle eye.

“He pushed the boundaries,” Forsythe says, chuckling. “And our coach ran the program like a drill sergeant. He helped a lot of us young kids grow up. That’s for sure.”

Pushing boundaries eventually led the Boston native, raised by a single mother in Miami, to serve in the Vietnam War as an air defense artillery officer following his graduation from West Point in 1970.

He later commanded three NATO nuclear missile bases in Italy before graduating from Harvard Business School in 1979.

Roedy then became what Forsythe affectionately describes as “The Cable Guy,” building his resume by starting out in a lesser position at HBO and then advancing to vice president of the corporation. In 1989, he became chief executive and managing director of MTV Europe. Rounding out his impressive career, in 2007, Roedy was named chairperson and CEO of MTV Networks International and vice chairperson of MTV Networks.”

“I know he was serious about the fact that we were going to defeat Soviet communism with culture,” Forsythe recalls, describing an encounter with Roedy at a West Point alumni event in the late 1980s. “He used the term ‘glocal’: Think global, act local. I remember he wanted to share American culture behind the Iron Curtain, but respectfully and tailored to the local culture.”

The rest is history. And Westminster College and America’s National Churchill Museum are an important part of that storied history.

An Individual With a Churchillian Spirit

Westminster College is the humble location in Fulton, Missouri, where on March 5, 1946, Churchill ominously predicted the Cold War. It is where the College later built a memorial to that famous “Iron Curtain” speech from the remaining stones of a 17th century Christopher Wren church partially destroyed during the German Blitzkrieg of London in World War II. And it is the unlikely location where countless world leaders have chosen to deliver speeches of international import, proudly following in Churchill’s footsteps.

It is also a place that stands for a period in history that is arguably repeating itself: a time Churchill would find concerning.

Churchill’s leadership qualities and those of other leaders, especially Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are on Roedy’s mind during a recent return visit to Westminster and the Museum ― familiar territory for the MTV pioneer who delivered the College’s John Findley Green Foundation Lecture and received an honorary degree in 2011, served on the Board of Trustees, and in 2017 was named a Churchill Fellow.

Roedy notes that Zelenskyy reminds him of the British statesman.

“Who would have thought a comedian would be a wartime hero? But, like Churchill, he has been able to adapt,” Roedy reflects, adding that Zelenskyy also speaks in sound bites that rival Churchill’s wartime rallying cries.

A Renegade ‘On the Backside’

The difference today, however, is we live in what Roedy refers to as “a bipolar world,” where it is difficult for one person to make a difference on a global scale.

“But one person can make a difference on the backside,” he says.

On the backside, Roedy is doing exactly that for Westminster College and America’s National Churchill Museum.

Despite being “retired” while overseeing several high-profile charitable works, the 74-year-old recently brought his audacious, Churchillian spirit to the 172-year-old college and America’s National Churchill Museum in support of fundraising efforts for the Museum.

Joined at Westminster by his wife, Alex, Roedy recorded a number of video segments in support of a $1 million fundraising campaign for the Museum to preserve history for future generations.

Pausing by the College’s Breakthrough sculpture carved out of eight consecutive sections of the Berlin Wall by Churchill’s granddaughter, artist and Churchill Fellow The Hon. Edwina Sandys, Roedy is visibly moved. The sculpture was dedicated by former President Ronald Reagan on November 9, 1990. On May 6, 1992, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stood in front of the sculpture and delivered the John Findley Green Foundation Lecture: the same lecture Churchill and Roedy delivered on campus, separated by more than seven decades.

Gorbachev once praised Roedy’s behind-the-Iron Curtain influence, stating, “Music is more powerful than missiles.”

With these thoughts in mind, Roedy is on a mission to ensure that Churchillian pre- and post-World War II history is well-preserved so that global tyranny can, once again, be put to a halt.

During his recent visit to campus, he pauses briefly to catch his breath. Looking around, he says, “It’s good to be in the Heartland of America, where you get a real slice of life that’s beautiful and clean and safe.”

Roedy then adds, “Anyone who comes here [to America’s National Churchill Museum] would be completely blown away. It’s important to keep this as a center, where people can come from all over the world and learn … to keep that legacy, particularly as generations go along.”

For tickets to An Evening Honoring Bill Roedy, or for more information on the event, please visit Westminster’s website or contact Keith Brant, Vice President of Institutional Advancement (Interim), at 573-592-5424.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.