Winston Churchill, UM Class of 1946

      President Bowman Foster Ashe and
      Sir Winston Churchill

University of Miami President Bowman Foster Ashe and Sir Winston Churchill, in scarlet Oxford regalia, led the long academic procession through the Orange Bowl (then called the Roddey Burdine Memorial Stadium) to a stage festooned with the flags of the Allied Nations and tropical palms for a Special Convocation to honor Churchill on February 26, 1946.

The UM student body was “terribly excited” to see him, remembers Ruth duPerrieu Ashe, B.B.A. ’49, who attended with fellow freshman Gloria O. Dash, A.B. ’49. “Everybody at the law school went,” adds Charles Wakeman, J.D. ’48.

Fern Wayne, ’49, recalls that it was a “beautiful Miami day,” despite reports of blustery weather earlier that morning.

Indeed, the sun shone brightly as Churchill received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UM, confirms Frank Stokes, B.S. ’49, who had helped plan the auspicious affair as freshman class president. “We all respected Churchill for what he did in the war,” explains Stokes, a retired physician who still has his ticket from the event.

Perhaps the world’s most admired man at the time, Churchill had been in South Florida on an extended, long-overdue vacation. In press photos he posed with Pinky the Cockatoo at Parrot Jungle and pursued his longtime passion, painting. But it was, in fact, an awkward time for the former prime minister. Just months after helping lead the Allies to victory, he lost a landslide election in July 1945.

President Ashe introduced Churchill by affirming his wartime contributions. “Except for the staunchness of these people, the rest of the world would have faced degradation too awful to contemplate,” Ashe announced.

Churchill reportedly had tears in his eyes as he gazed over the crowd of 17,500 attendees. Accepting the degree “in the presence of this vast and gracious concourse,” he remarked, “makes the occasion memorable in my life.”

He thanked the University community for giving more than 1,200 Royal Air Force cadets “a very high quality of technical, navigational, and meteorological training” even before the United States formally entered the war.

On the subject of education, Churchill observed wryly: “I am surprised that later in my life I should have become so experienced in taking degrees when, as a schoolboy, I was so bad at passing examinations. In fact one might almost say that no one ever passed so few examinations and received so many degrees.”

Turning serious, he added, “It is the glory of the United States that her graduates of universities are numbered not by the million, but by the ten million.” He went on to observe that “millions of young men have had their education interrupted by the war. Their lives have been slashed across by its flaming sword. We must make sure that, in both our countries, they do not suffer needlessly for this particular form of sacrifice they have made.”

Indeed, UM accommodated thousands of returning soldiers.
That February speech, Churchill’s first in the U.S. after the war, drew international coverage. As Wayne reflects 65 years later: “It was a big day for the University.”

Harout Samra, A.B. ’04, M.B.A. ’08, J.D. ’09

Harout Samra is a Miami-based associate at DLA Piper LLP. He recently had another article about Sir Winston Churchill published. “Temples of Peace or Cockpits in a Tower of Babel” appeared in Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill, a publication of the Churchill Centre in London.