Jonas Salk was in the news a few weeks ago, fifty years to the day after announcing his vaccine which halted the epidemic of polio in its tracks. How well I can recall the dreadful plague known officially as infantile paralysis. Every time you turned around, you heard of another precious child being afflicted. “Don’t swim in that pond,” we would hear. Our parents were certain that the disease was caught or spread through infected swimming pools. As a child in the 1940s, I joined with others from our school as we filled the little March of Dimes cards with coins to help fight polio. And we breathed a great sigh of relief when Salk’s announcement was made.
Now it comes to light that Dr. Salk was only the point man of a vast team of researchers and scientists. While that is not particularly surprising, what is unusual is that none of them got any credit for their part in the discovery and perfecting of this vaccine. A half century later, those researchers and their families are still hurting over the slight. Dr. Salk is long dead, but his son now apologizes for the glaring oversight.
I’ve been reading the second of William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill titled “The Last Lion,” the fascinating volume subtitled: “Winston Spencer Churchill: ALONE 1932-1940.” It deals with nearly the entire decade of the 1930s, when he was a backbencher, a Member of Parliament but out of power, no longer occupying an important post either in government or in his party.
During his “exile,” as some have called it, Churchill attended meetings of Parliament and spoke to near-empty benches. He wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, a million words in all during the 1930s, and he gave speeches. He painted, he tended to his animals, and he used his masonry skills to build brick walls,some of them going on and on, at his estate in Kent called Chartwell. (I visited Chartwell in the early 1980s and remember it well.) But mostly during this period, Churchill spoke up.
He criticized the prime ministers who were leading England to lay down their weapons and close down their armament plants at the very time Germany was growing stronger and more warlike. He nailed Hitler for violating the terms of the Versailles agreement signed at the end of the First World War. He warned against disarmament conventions and railed against professors and students who wanted to give away the store. In parliament and in his writings and speeches, Churchill kept up a relentless attack against pacificism and disarmament while keeping the focus on the Nazis and their aggression.
As a result, Churchill became the most unpopular public figure in the country. The attacks on him were unceasing. It was a terrible time in his professional life, a period of isolation which caused author Manchester to title this volume “Alone.”
From the perspective of history, the lonely 1930s became Churchill’s shining hour. To be the sole voice in the wilderness, getting it right when all others were getting it wrong, then to emerge in 1940 as the only logical choice to lead the nation in the war against Nazi Germany, meant total and complete vindication for Winston Churchill.
But the fact is Churchill was not alone. Not even close.
In spite of his naming this volume “Alone,” Manchester goes into detail listing the advisors and confidantes who came to Churchill on the sly to report secrets of the British government and from the Nazis. Many of them broke laws by revealing national secrets, but after watching the coverup of their own prime minister and his cabinet and realizing the peril appeasement was putting their country in, they felt they had no other recourse. Churchill was their hero. Some with intimate knowledge of what the Germans were doing brought great detailed plans to Chartwell. More than one scientist helped him make sense of secret weapons, radar, and other scientific schemes.
As a result, when Churchill spoke or wrote, these were not the rantings of a disenchanted warrior or the frustrations of a terminated employee looking for ways to get back at the big guys. Read his writings for yourself–they’re available in book form–and you quickly decide he was a man in the know, an Old Testament prophet trying to rouse a nation to action. He was many things, was this Churchill, but “alone” was not one of them. Not by a long shot. He was a team.
A pastor stands in the pulpit on Sunday and welcomes the congregation. He speaks of upcoming events and recognizes key members who are worthy of honor. He opens the Bible, reads God’s word, and expounds on it. He may have a dozen other ministers on staff, but only his name has been painted on the sign in front. If he stays as long as five years or more, the denomination and the city will begin to identify him with the church and they with him. He will step forward at meetings of the denomination and accept recognitions his people have earned. His face will be featured in newspapers and magazines with the name of the church underneath.
If you didn’t know better, one would think him to be a one-man show, putting that church on the map all by himself.
Not even close. Alongside, underneath, and surrounding him comes a great corps of workers, some paid and most volunteer, to do the nuts and bolts work of the church. Work for which he may get the recognition. Most of the support team understand that this is how the system works, but not all are happy about it.
It’s a wise leader who recognizes how dependent he is on the team he relies on.
In the governor’s office, I asked for an autographed picture. He took a poster-sized photo and using a magic marker, scrawled across the bottom, “To Joe McKeever–the best preacher in the state.” Later, I said to one of his assistants, an old friend, that I could not hang this in my office, that it’s actually embarrassing. He popped my bubble. “Joe,” he said, “He does that to every person who comes in this office. Gushes over them like they were the greatest in the world. But the people who work for him are starving for a word of thanks and a little recognition.”
Somewhere in the distant past, I recall hearing of an organist performing a concert. Her instrument was an old-fashioned pump organ driven by a second person who stood in the back, off-stage, pumping the bellows. On this day, the organist enlisted the aid of a 12 year old kid. The boy worked hard at it, pumping the air which drove the organ which the musician stroked to produce music. After each number, the audience applauded and the organist stood to bow and receive their adulation. “For my next number,” she would say, then introduce another piece. “I chose this piece,” she would explain, and “I especially enjoy playing this one.” Eventually, after an elaborate introduction of another piece, she sat down to play but no sound came forth. The organ was as dead as a chair. Finally, she walked around and looked behind the curtain to see if the child had run into difficulty. There he was, sitting on a chair, his arms folded. “What is the problem?” she asked with irritation. “No problem,” the boy said, “But next time, let’s put a little more ‘we’ into it.”
William Manchester honors Winston Churchill for his prophetic sense and his courageous stance, but faults him for a very common grievance. He barely knew the names of the men and women who worked in his household as servants, cooks, valets, and secretaries. And never showed them proper recognition. Manchester dismisses it by saying the staff all recognized that they were being given a great privilege, the opportunity to serve greatness. One wonders about that, however, remembering that old adage that “no man is a hero to his valet.”
Before King David took possession of the Israeli throne, he was fighting a war on several sides. On the one hand King Saul’s army was hounding David relentlessly, while the pagan countries nearby seized every opportunity to take advantage of the conflict for personal gain. When the Amalekites raided the triangle known as the Negev, they captured the town of Ziklag and kidnaped the families of David and his men. I Samuel 30 tells the story of David’s pursuit. At one point, 200 of his men were too exhausted to go on, so David commanded them to camp by the river Besor and to stand guard over everyone’s equipment and baggage. Two days later, when the army returned victoriously, some of the more selfish of David’s men did not want to divide the spoils with the 200 who had not gone to the battle. David’s response tells a lot about him.
“The share of the one who goes into battle is to be the same as the share of the one who remains with the supplies. They will share equally.” Support team, front line warriors–no difference–each one is crucial to the battle.
I need you and you need me. Sometimes you will lead and I will be in a support position. At other times, you will bring up the rear. At all times, we will recognize our dependence on each other. For we are a team.