Growing up, Catherine Grace Katz was a dedicated student of history, even gravitating toward films like “The Sound of Music,” a fictionalized account of a real family in war-torn Europe. In fact, this particular era holds a lot of meaning for her.
“My grandfather served in the Navy in World War II, and he shared memories of that time. I just found it really interesting, so I’ve always loved history … ever since I can remember,” she said. “We’re also big readers in my family. My mom was reading to us constantly when I was young and that exposes you to a whole world of ideas and helps to create a healthy imagination.”
That love of history and literature propelled Katz to an Ivy League education, collecting degrees from Harvard and a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge (and she’s not done yet, she’s currently a student at Harvard Law School).
But it was her time spend at Cambridge in England that helped set her on the course to authorship.
“Since I had spent a good bit of time there, I knew some things about Winston Churchill. But when I was working in finance in New York, I noticed there was this bookstore in my office building,” she said. “It was called Chartwell, which was the name of Churchill’s country house.”
Katz spent time socializing with the shop’s owner and learning more about the famed prime minister’s life. Through those conversations, she discovered an organization called the Churchill Society. The group hosted an event in New York City, where former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke. Through connections in the society, Katz discovered that Churchill’s daughter’s papers were going to be opened for outside researchers for the first time.
While she didn’t know much about his daughter, Sarah Churchill, she was familiar with a portrait depicting the prime minister’s daughter — it’s located on Sea Island.
“My family and I vacationed at Sea Island for years, and I remember walking past the portrait from her wedding day at the Cloister every summer,” she said.
Considering this connection, members of the society asked Katz to pen an essay for their quarterly publication, “Finest Hour.” This first brush with the fascinating life of Sarah Churchill sparked a new interest for Katz.
“Sarah was this glamorous redhead. She was a dancer and was in a movie with Fred Astaire. But she set aside her career to help with the war effort, like everyone else. She joined the women’s branch as an intelligence analyst,” she said.
After the war, Sarah felt compelled to carve out some peace and tranquility for herself. She eloped with Anthony Beauchamp in 1949, marrying on Sea Island at the home of Alfred W. Jones.
“I remember during my research seeing this letter she wrote to her family and it’s on Sea Island letterhead,” she said. “She talks about how in love they are, and how they didn’t want the fuss that would have come with marrying in England. She also talks about how the people (at Sea Island) are the nicest people in the world, which I definitely feel the same way. I think that’s alive and well in the Golden Isles today.”
Sarah’s exciting life as well as her close relationship with her father compelled Katz to pull together a book, a goal she had since she was a child.
That is how “Daughters of Yalta, The Churchills, Roosevelts and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War” was born. The book examines how Churchill and Sarah, as well as other leaders and their daughters, came together at Yalta for one of the most important conferences in history. Along with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and his daughter, Anna, there was also Kathleen Harriman, daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman.
But even with such high profile characters, Katz says the themes are quite relatable.
“It’s really a book about relationships between fathers and daughters. These three young women served as aides to their fathers. So I think seeing them in this context is really eye opening and brings a real sense of humanity to their lives,” she said. “It’s meaningful in a different way.”
As Katz set about unraveling the stories of these figures, she was connected with the Coastal Georgia Historical Society curator Mimi Rogers, who helped fill in some of the blanks surrounding Sarah’s wedding.
“I met Mimi about four or five years ago when I was beginning the article about Sarah. I was told she knows everything,” she said with a laugh. “And we met and had a great conversation.”
That connection also laid the foundation for an invitation to speak at the Coastal Georgia Historical Society — one that Katz happily accepted.
At 6 p.m. April 15, Katz will present a virtual lecture on the book and the individuals in it. The event is free and open to all. Registration must be made at the coastalgeorgiahistory.org and links will be sent to participants.
For Katz, it will be an opportunity to share her work with the Golden Isles, a place that — like Sarah Churchill — she also found enchanting.
“I’m really excited to share her story. It’s just something that we can all understand. I hope others are as touched by her story,” she said. “Beyond these tense negotiations (at Yalta), it’s really a story about parents and children … those relationships. There’s geo-political symmetry and we can see and enjoy that, but it’s really the human side of the story that I hope people enjoy the most,” she said.
Many have enjoyed that — in fact, there are plans in the works to make Katz’s book into a film.
“Amy Pascal and Sony bought the option. Amy did ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Post’ and ‘Spiderman,’” she said. “She’s phenomenal, and I’m really excited to work with her.”