Remembering Sir Nicholas Winton

The world has lost a true hero

Sir Nicholas Winton. Image via Wikipedia Commons.

The news from England this week made my heart heavy. Sir Nicholas Winton has passed away.

The Mackinac Center first learned of Nicky when our then-President Lawrence W. Reed met and interviewed him. I will be forever grateful to Lawrence W. Reed for bringing his story to Michigan and inviting me to visit England with him to meet this exceptional man.

Sir Nicholas Winton spent the war years as Nicholas Winton and was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his valor, compassion and heroic measures exhibited during the fight to save children from certain death in concentration camps. He has been called Britain’s Schlindler and certainly a hero. He much preferred “Nicky” and to a vast number of descendants of the 669 children he saved and to many others who were privileged to know him, he will always be our “Nicky.”

There is much to remember about this humble, articulate man. It is amazing that someone who did so much for children he did not even know could have remained, till the very end, humble about his accomplishments. He did what needed to be done.

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I was blessed to have visited with him three times. My first visit was in his home in Maidenhead (about 25 miles out of London) which included a visit to his favorite pub for lunch. The second time he joined us in London for dinner and a visit to the Royal Albert Hall. I will always remember waving the Union Jack with him as we listened to some of our favorite music. He loved opera. The third visit was in May of this year as we celebrated his 106th birthday which was within the week. He wasn’t able to wave a flag or journey to London but he still quoted poetry, had a distinct twinkle in his eye and kept us smiling with that well-known English wit. He was also saddened by the declining health of some of the “children” he saved.

It has also been my privilege to have met with three of those children — children who now live in England, Canada and New Zealand. They also have quite the story to tell. Needless to say, Nicky is a hero to them.

I also met his own son Nick Winton, who was hosted by the Holocaust Memorial Center in metro Detroit last summer. He told the inspiring story of a man who lived his motto: “If it’s not impossible then there must be a way to do it.” I am sure his narrative was new to many in that audience and am thankful that the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy presented this story.

This story needs to be passed on to the next generation without fail. I am also thankful that my grandchildren’s school, Corpus Christi Catholic School in Holland, Mich. learned of Nicky’s deeds.

Perhaps a quote from a letter written by Sir Nicholas Winton in 1939 says it best:

“…there is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness which is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely leading an exemplary life, in the purely passive way of doing no wrong.”

My friend Nicky did indeed lead an exemplary life. May he rest in peace.


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