It has been more than 50 years since Anneliese Nefos worked for Winston Churchill, but the respect she has for Britain’s former prime minister isn’t touched by time when she talks about him.
“Let’s face it, if it would not have been for Sir Winston and President (Franklin) Roosevelt, if those two leaders would not have seen eye to eye, I would not be sitting here,” Nefos said while at work at Medina Gem Co., the business she owns on Medina’s Public Square.
“Switzerland, all of Europe would be wiped over by the Nazi regime. He was the savior of the free world. I honestly believe that.”
Nefos eyes glistened as she remembered her time when she was in her 20s as household chief of staff for Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill between 1959 and 1961.
“I would say I met all the people with rank, name, power in the world,” Nefos said of her time working in the Churchill household.
After growing up in Switzerland and attending finishing school and college, Nefos made her way to England with a friend during the late 1950s as a way to improve her English.
After spending a season working at a seaside hotel, she and her friend made their way to London, and after doing some sightseeing, decided to find full-time employment.
Nefos thought that perhaps they could work at one of the large estates in England that required numerous employees. They never dreamed they would wind up working for one of the most revered men in Britain.
After filling out paperwork that was sent back to Switzerland for information about her background, Nefos and her friend received a phone call.
“It was the head secretary of Sir Winston, who invited us for an interview in London,” Nefos said.
A taxi brought the pair to Churchill’s London residence, 28 Hyde Park Gate. After knocking on the door, a man showed them into a room with a large desk.
“We felt like we were made of glass; so in other words, he was just looking us over,” Nefos said. “He knew everything (about us).”
About a week later, the same man called to offer the two a job, with instructions to be in Westerham, Kent, at 6 o’clock.
Westerham is the location of Churchill’s country estate, Chartwell, which he purchased in 1922. Located roughly 40 miles south of London, Chartwell served as a weekend retreat from the demands of life in London, a place where Churchill could do his oil paintings and enjoy a cigar and brandy.
Nefos, in fact, has one of Churchill’s cigars as well as an autographed playing card, mementos of the British statesmen she has kept through the years.
On her very first day at Chartwell, Nefos said Churchill made a lasting impression on her by simply shaking her hand.
“The tradition is in England, only men reach (to shake) each other’s hands, but he reached for mine and I felt very honored,” Nefos said.
She said despite his status, Churchill, who died in 1965, didn’t rely on his accomplishments and status for respect.
“He hated one thing — that was “yes” and “amen” people,” Nefos said. “He would say to you, ‘You are in my employment. I want to know what you think. Talk to me.’”
In 1961, Nefos and her friend returned to Switzerland following her surgery for appendicitis, and planned to return to England, but their fathers had other ideas.
“We both did not know that our powerful fathers got together and said, ‘This is enough. Those two girls are not going back.’ ”
Nefos said she tried to explain to her father the cost of breaking the contract with the Churchills.
“He paid many, many hundreds of pounds to break the contract,” she said.
Since then, Nefos said she has maintained an enjoyable correspondence with the Churchill family, sending yearly birthday cards to Lady Churchill until her death in 1972.
Nefos, who recently went to see the new film about Churchill — “Darkest Hour” — said she enjoyed it, and actor Gary Oldman did an excellent job in his portrayal.
But the film can’t compare to her personal memories.
After a dinner at Chartwell when the guests left early, Churchill, in his mid-80s at the time, “called me and said, ‘Anneliese would you help me walk to the window.’ ”
I said, ‘Well, certainly, Sir Winston.’
“He reached for my left arm and we walked to the window. He wanted to see if he was up to going to his house where he would paint in oil.”
It was then that Churchill looked at Nefos and in French said, “ ‘You are a beautiful, intelligent young woman. Whatever you wish or want to achieve, never, never give up on it.’
“That was a moment that he said something personal to me, about me.”
Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.