Correction: This story originally reported an incorrect day for Celia Sandys' appearance at OSU. The story has been corrected.
Celia Sandys had a unique relationship with one of the 20th century’s greatest figures — not once, but twice.
As a young woman in the 1960s, Sandys was the frequent traveling companion of her grandfather, Winston Churchill, in the final years of his life.
Many years later, long after Churchill’s death, she came to know him as a boy, through a trove of his letters that she and a cousin found in a tin box.
From those perspectives at opposite ends of Churchill’s long and eventful life, Sandys (pronounced “Sands”) began writing.
The daughter of Churchill’s oldest child, Diana, Sandys has produced five books on her grandfather and traveled the world researching and speaking on Churchill’s life.
At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, those travels will take Sandys to Stillwater, for a free lecture in Oklahoma State University’s McKnight Center.
She’ll talk about Winston Churchill, of course, but she’ll do it, Sandys said, in a way others can’t.
Sandys’ books include “From Winston With Love and Kisses,” which draws on letters and diaries ignored by earlier biographers, “Chasing Churchill” and “Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive.”
The latter two are part biography, part travelogue and part memoir. In “Chasing Churchill,” Sandys retraced some of her grandfather’s journeys, including several on which she accompanied him.
“Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive,” follows his route following a daring escape from a Boer prisoner of war camp in 1900.
“From Winston With Love and Kisses,” though, established Sandys as her generation’s family historian. Her uncle, Randolph Churchill, had written the first two volumes of Winston Churchill’s eight-volume official biography, and Sandys’ aunt, Lady Soames, published a respected biography of her mother, Clementine.
And, Winston himself was a prolific writer who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
Sandys, though, did not take up writing until well into her 40s.
“It was by chance, really,” she said. “I had two children late in life and dropped out of society to take care of them. When the youngest one began school, I looked around for something to do.”
She was having tea with a cousin, she said, when they opened a tin box and discovered it full of letters and diaries related to Winston Churchill’s early life. The material had been under the control of Churchill’s biographers but had not been used.
“I said, ‘This is actually amazing. Someone should do something with this,’ ” said Sandys. “(Her cousin) said, ‘Well, you do it.’ ”
The documents revealed an often lonely boy determined to prove his courage and become someone of importance.
“They were terribly moving,” said Sandys. “And I was conscious that there would not be too many troves like this in the future.”
For “Chasing Churchill” and “Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive,” Sandys did a lot of what she calls “living research.” She visited the places in question and conducted extensive interviews to recreate Churchill’s travels.
To most people, Churchill is primarily remembered for leading the United Kingdom during World War II. But he had an extraordinarily long public life, first attracting attention as a soldier and journalist in India in the late 1890s and continuing until his death in 1965. He survived ignominious defeats and years in the political wilderness, switched political parties twice and took positions that were unpopular in their day and some that remain controversial today.
“I think it was his courage to carry on with what he thought was right when everyone else told him he was wrong,” Sandys said when asked her grandfather’s single most enduring characteristic.
Casting back to Churchill’s early years, when he often went voluntarily into harms way, Sandys said, “One, he was testing himself. Two, he wanted to become famous.”