Rep. Craig Horn finds it a little daunting when legislative friends call him “Mr. Churchill.”
“Too much pressure,” says Horn, 71. “That sets the bar really, really high.”
Few know that as profoundly as the Weddington Republican, who chairs the Winston Churchill Society of North Carolina.
Horn will travel to England this weekend for the annual International Churchill Conference, an event featuring presentations by politicians and historians and a black-tie dinner at Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace.
It’s part of a yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the British leader’s death. Churchill died Jan. 24, 1965.
In only his third term, Horn has become a key leader on education in the N.C. General Assembly. He chairs two committees, including the one that oversees more than $12 billion in school funding. It’s a heady responsibility for someone with no formal background in the subject.
Horn, a former rock ‘n roll drummer, soap salesman, food broker and Air Force intelligence veteran who served on the front lines of the Cold War and speaks Russian, didn’t move to North Carolina from Maryland until 2005.
“He’s risen solely on merit,” says Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville. “He’s worked exceptionally hard to understand education issues. You don’t have to come from education to care deeply about education.”
Horn finds enduring inspiration in the iconic British leader, whose life spanned nearly a century, who saw wars on four continents and helped his country through its darkest hour in World War II.
“When I think I’m having a bad day, I think about what he was facing,” Horn says. “The bombs are falling, his countrymen are dying … and he’s saying, ‘Let’s keep fighting’.”
Horn invoked Churchill this week as lawmakers paid tribute to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and his team’s national championship. Horn told the coach that he keeps a poster of Churchill over the wartime slogan, “Deserve Victory.”
“You deserve victory,” he told the coach. “You’ve shown that you can win not only on the court but in life.”
Fascination with Churchill
Horn’s office is adorned with Churchilliana: photos and posters of the prime minister, a desktop bust, a framed snapshot of Horn with Churchill’s daughter.
He keeps a laminated quote from the British leader: “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure.”
“Craig is one of thousands upon thousands of people worldwide who are just fascinated in the character of Churchill,” says Paul Reid, a North Carolina-based author picked by historian William Manchester to finish the final volume in his trilogy, “The Last Lion.”
Across the country there are two dozen Churchill societies from Alaska to Florida. That speaks to the abiding interest in the wartime leader, who not only is credited with saving his country but won critical acclaim for his paintings and a Nobel Prize in literature for his historical writing. He was a larger-than-life character – brash, quick-witted and courageous.
“I tell people you can admire Churchill or not, but you can never say he was boring,” says Lee Pollack, executive director of the Churchill Centre, based near Chicago.
Horn’s own fascination began almost by accident.
He was stationed in Germany when Churchill died in 1965 and couldn’t avoid the news stories. Years later, an interest in history and the Civil War led him to Churchill’s writings about the war, and eventually to books about the Englishman himself.
“The more you read the more you want to read,” he says.
Around 1995, Horn met a Churchill aficionado who invited him to a conference on the British leader in Boston. There, he found himself in a hotel lobby chatting with – and lighting a cigar for – an older woman. Only later did he find out she was Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter.
The next morning she sat down with Horn and his wife, Lorraine, for breakfast and learned they lived in a Washington suburb.
“She said, ‘Well you know we’re going to have a board of governors meeting in Washington in a few weeks? I’d like you to come,” he recalls.
That’s how Horn got involved with the Churchill Society. Six months later, he was on the board. Later, he was president.
Pollack calls Horn “absolutely tireless” in his work on the society’s behalf. He spreads the Churchill gospel wherever he can. He once brought Churchill’s granddaughter to speak to students at UNC Charlotte. He helped find speaking engagements for Reid, who worked on the Churchill volume for nine years.
To Horn, who became a military intelligence expert, a successful businessman and an influential lawmaker despite never graduating from college, Churchill is a kindred spirit.
“It’s absolutely fascinating to me, a life so broad and so well-lived,” he says. “When you’re a Churchillian, you have a thirst for knowledge and especially history.”
What Craig Horn learned from Churchill
▪ “Staying strong in the face of opposition. It’s really easy to be deterred.”
▪ “The key to life is perseverance, and if there’s anybody who personifies perseverance, it’s Winston Churchill.”
▪ “He was in the middle of a forest fire armed with a squirt gun and running out of water.”