Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Final Bow

By Robert Hudson Westover
Chairman Emeritus, S.S. United States Foundation

S.S. United States Foundation's
1999 "Save the United States"
advertising campaign won several
design awards.
Seeing the film Titanic when it was released in December 1997 proved to be pivotal moment for me. That’s because watching Mr. Cameron’s near exact replica of the 1912 White Star ocean liner reminded me of another ship I had adored, imagined and built (the Revel model that is!) as a child. A ship whose very name made me feel patriotic.

The S.S. United States.

Titanic made me want to know where the S.S. United States had gone. I went on (what we called then) the World Wide Web and discovered (to my delighted surprise) that America’s flagship was very much still afloat and a former passenger, Mike Alexander, had started a Website to bring awareness to her plight.

That following January I went to visit the United States for the first time. I could hardly sleep the night before! I felt like a little boy going to Disneyland for the first time! I’ll never forget seeing her red, white and blue funnels for the first time that day. Her sleek profile. Her dramatic and cutting bow.

She was weather beaten for sure, but where others saw discouragement and a badly decaying vessel I saw hope and a glorious restoration like the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.

I was 33 years old and full of excitement and possibilities. I didn’t care that the herculean task of saving this ship would take years of my life. I didn’t care that many other interests where vying with their own visions--and, sadly, personal self-aggrandized agendas.

I just knew I could do this.

And I began by starting an organization I named the S.S. United States Foundation.

I’m not going delve into the details--the impossible odds of creating and leading one of the largest all volunteer preservation non-profits in the country--because this amazing story has been covered in many news stories and in books.

Safe to say, the attention I sought to bring to the ship via the SSUS Foundation, went well beyond anything I could have imagined. For the first time since the ship won the Blue Riban for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean (and her untimely retirement in 1969) her story appeared in the New York Times, then the BBC World News Service, then ABC World News Tonight and on and on.          (Click on video below)



This constant national and international media attention began in April 1999 and has never let up.

With success came attention and many now wanted to become part of what had been a few, but highly devoted, Big U (her nickname) fans in varying fields of expertise from advertising, public relations, media relation, maritime and legislative-based professions.

The SSUS Foundation's greatest accomplish happened when we lead the effort and succeeded in placing the S.S. United States on the National Register of Historic Places when she was less than 50 years old. This "less than 50 years old" is important because we had to prove the Big U met the National Register's stringent “National Significance” criterion.

We did and the Big U was placed on the National Register in June 1999 resulting in another round of national attention including a prime time broadcast on CNN. (Click on video below)



But soon the reality of having to actually convince a municipality to take her in as a Queen Mary type attraction set in. Meetings were held with elected representatives but no one seemed to grasp (or have the vision) of what a huge tourist attraction the SS United States could become—a classic problem in preservation efforts.

Then the owner, who had allowed the SSUS Foundation free and near unfetter access to the ship passed away. She was sold to NCL and the Foundation’s noble vision to see the S.S United States preserved as a monument to her splendor (and being able to keep her on the National Register) seemed lost.

Then everything changed.
The official logo of the S.S. United States Foundation.
The Foundation's confrontational approached to NCL’s renovation plans didn’t sit well with some members of the board of directors.

In the ensuing heightened climate of profound ideological differences a new non-profit, the S.S. United States Conservancy, was created (or reemerged from an existing organization as some would insist) and they succeeded in purchasing the United States from NCL after the cruises line abandoned its renovation plans.

Not long after the remaining board of the SSUS Foundation voted to suspend any further activities and to not compete for our vision of preservation.

Since that time I have maintained a social media presence as a fascinated spectator of the SSUS Conservancy’s efforts to bring their vision of the Big U to fruition--I even donated my last royalty proceeds from the book SS United States Fastest Ship in World (Turner) to the Conservancy. And until their recent announcement about the deal worked out with Crystal Cruise Lines I was as unaware of their vision as anyone else.

Cover to the successful book
SS United States Fastest ship in the World (Turner)
Let me be clear. I cannot begin to express my profound disappointment in the future chosen by the SSUS Conservancy for this great historic site.

To me the plans are an abomination of what I, and many others feel, was the epitome of ship building. And I realize many feel differently but I very much disagree with the argument that all that matters is that she sails again.

Sails as what?

To me it’s analogous to giving Queen Elizabeth a Hollywood-style face lift, collagen lip injections, massive Dolly Parton-esque breast implants, a tummy tuck and a rear-end lift, put her in a red, skin-tight beaded dress and parade her around with the Kardashian sisters.

Yes, what a comical and ridiculous site that would be and what horrid last visual memories of a great queen!

Yet, I’m supposed to feel that what is planned for the S.S. United States is any different?

Well, I can’t.

Now that the board of the SSUS Conservancy has made their choice to, what I strongly feel, eviscerate the remaining historic integrity (as I believe is clearly spelled in the requirements for historic designation by The National Register of Historic Places), I will suspend any involvement in and abandon my watch as a preservationist seeking to protect this amazing relic of maritime greatness.

Good-by once great Queen of the Seas.

I did my best to save you.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lessons in Nobility - A Real Downton Abbey Story

Now Available on Amazon 


Who wouldn’t want a fairy godmother? They would lavish you with gifts, of course, but more importantly they would teach you how to be a better person by bringing out your inner nobility. Lessons in Nobility is about how a very real fairy godmother changed the author’s life from a self-destructive one to a life of noble aspirations and wonderful achievements. 

While still a teenager, Robert Westover was introduced to his “fairy godmother” who, like the plot of so many Russian novels, was a delightfully eccentric countess. Countess Olga de Chravpovitsky was raised in the court of Tsar Nicholas II. She was a playmate of the legendary Grand Duchess Anastasia and at one point even encountered the mysterious Siberian monk, Rasputin. 

Despite the horrors of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Olga’s family managed to escape. Exiled in America, she became a relative (through marriage) to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and helped influence the former First Lady’s fascination with imperial Russia—a fact known by few. But all these things were just the baubles of a life of any well-born person with great connections. What made Olga special was the nobility she expressed in nearly everything she did—and how she taught it to Robert. 

So how did a middle class kid from LA become the “honorary godson” to such a regal and highborn woman? That will be for the reader to decide. Some will see it as pure luck while others will see it as fate. But, no matter the conclusion, the story of how Robert was taught to be noble is one that everyone can gain from. 

The reader will walk away with a better understanding of what being noble is and how they can apply these lessons in their own lives. Sometimes dramatic and often moving, Lessons in Nobility has a timeless appeal. 

Never before Published Insight into Jackie Kennedy’s Life 
As an exciting addition to the book, the author has included an article he wrote about the relationship between Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Hugh D. “Yusha” Auchincloss III, Olga's newphew. Step brother and sister, Yusha and Jackie shared a love that lasted their entire lives. 

Mr. Westover had unique access to Yusha Auchincloss and interviewed him on several occasions at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. The interviews, in the twilight of Mr. Auchincloss' life, reveal just how much love he and Jackie had for each other. 

Robert Hudson Westover is a professional writer of articles, humorous columns, and was the subject of many national news stories including ABC World News Tonight (2000), The New York Times (1998/2003) and the BBC (1998/2000). His "Lord Westover" blog was nominated to the Washington Post's "Best Blog Award" by its readers and mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Westover is co-author of the well-received “S.S. United States – Fastest Ship in the World” (Turner). He and his husband, Gay rights activist Tom Fulton, live in Virginia.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Getty Images: Same sex couples activists celebrate US Supreme Court decision

You know you’re part of LGBT media history when Getty Images, the world’s largest repository of pictures and broadcast roll media has you in their database. Tom, me and our friend Phil Attey appear in the attached clip—note the caption! So proud to be a “Flag waving LGBT rights” advocate!

This news clip (or portions of it) were broadcast around the world to over 100 countries. Take that LGBT haters!

Getty Images: Same sex couples activists celebrate US Supreme Court decision
Credit: AFP Footage
Caption: Flag waving LGBT rights advocates on the packed Supreme Court forecourt some in tears cheered danced shouted USA USA and sang The Star Spangled Banner in celebration of the high court’s decision to make same sex marriage legal throughout the US

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Let’s Talk Story - Be a Witness to Climate Change

By Robert Westover

On our way into work this morning my husband, Tom, was reading an article in The Atlantic about Microsoft founder Bill Gate’s perspective on climate change when Tom abruptly turned to me and said: I hear so much about the science of climate change but I rarely hear people tell how it has affected them...on an individual level. I want to hear about their personal experiences.

Tom enjoying New Zealand's great outdoors
I was astounded that I hadn’t thought to promote this type of anecdotal climate change awareness on a more focused level in the ten years I’ve been writing about global warming. (Full disclosure: for many years I’ve been a “true believer” in the effects of climate change, as a man-made phenomenon. Tom has always been a keen observer and skeptic of political/environmental trends but he now agrees wholeheartedly with me that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing mankind and we need to do something about it.)

Well, I got to work—immediately (as in today).  And here's the start.

I’ve launched a Facebook page called Witness to Climate Change https://www.facebook.com/witnesstoclimatechange/ to capture in one location as many personal storied of how climate change has affected You and Me—all of us on an individual level. This is how the story needs to be told. This is how people learn. Anecdotes of this-is-what-happened-to-me have guided humanity for millennia and I now feel this should be the focus of a worldwide climate change awareness campaign I’m calling (like the Facebook handle) Witness to Climate Change.  

Shortly after meeting Prince Charles
 (I'm snapping a picture in the background)
Back a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet one of the great climate change spokespersons (if you will) in the world. I shook hands with Prince Charles and told him I worked on climate change issues to which he responded, “But is anyone listening?" to which I replied, "We're making progress. They will listen..."

I hope the Witness to Climate Change grassroots awareness campaign is an answer so that many more will start “listening”.

Please go to the new Witness to Climate Change Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/witnesstoclimatechange/ and share your own experiences of what you've seen, lived or how you’ve been affected by climate change. I’ll choose stories to be promoted on this blog and my Twitter site @MrClimateChange.


Let’s fight Climate Change one story at a time!

Friday, October 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Pope Francis on Gay Marriage

“In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” – Christ Jesus

Dear Pope Francis:

As a baptized and loving Catholic I have worked to thread my Catholic upbringing into daily living as I have sought to lead a life with integrity, dignity, and personal success as a natural gay man created by God as Gay.  I have a wonderful loving husband named Robert who, although not Catholic (I’m working on it), loves God with such profundity that it was one of the reasons I married him.

My often difficult but blessed personal journey has occurred while at the same time, throughout the advanced world we all have witnessed, as part of each generation’s spiritual revelation, a deeper understanding of same-sex attraction within the human race, as well as the animal kingdom. And are not animals in their simplistic innocent creatures of God? If same sex attraction was not natural, why did God instill it in a small percentage of his lessor creation?


My Husband and me after the US Supreme ruled that our
marriage, our devotion and love for each other, was
equal to every other married couple in America.
This picture was the lead photo on the Huffington Post's
website and was picked up all over the world
I, and others like me, seek to demonstrate that values such as wholesome living, honor, love and fidelity can be lived while having a spouse of the same-sex. Millions of us seek to live a life in Christ.  As with all people, this walk is often a challenge, but made unnecessarily difficult by unloving, uniformed, or less spiritually developed forces which attack and demonize Gay people. 

And, we as LGBT Catholics have an additional cross put upon our shoulders by our own church. Many of us turn in despair to anti-spiritual fronts, often exemplified by popular culture which often elevates and glorifies baser ways of living, which many do know, through often tragic personal experience, leads to a spiritual dead end--yet even as this “front” has offered us refuge when the Church has turned against us! 

Indeed, this is a challenge calling for great gifts of discernment.

I too have a concern for the “family”, Pope Francis, which I agree can be greatly healed by individuals committing to living lives far more focused on self-less love, and service. Please pray to understand, though, that physical expressions, depending upon body parts, DO NOT, Pope Francis, change “fundamental relationships” that you expressed concern about in the marriage covenant.  Rather sexuality, including Gay sexuality, is truly a mysterious wonder which according to God’s plan, when property used, can lead to a deeper, richer life in every way. 

With our natural sexuality intact we can develop towards a deeper life in Christ.  Many things threaten all types of family life today, I agree: a culture which too often degrades or ridicules wholesome values, rather than the transformational power of love for another. Or others: worldwide economic pressures, self-centeredness, declining discipline, delaying gratification, a changing socialization which focuses on short-term versus long-term goals, and many many other challenges. 

This ostracized community of Gay people, especially middle-age elders, can actually offer tremendous insight into how to counter these corrosive visions within the flock. Holy Father, you can seize this opportunity and actually help by understanding and speaking compassionately about our rightful place within the body of Christ!  

You can speak forth that our dreams too reflect the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had that men and women should be judged by the content of their character, and people who are LGBT should not in any way be discriminated within the public realm, and this must be clearly stated in federal law, and throughout the world. 


Robert and me at home.
Your Holiness you are actually in concert with another fellow Catholic, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy.  Yes, in removing the splinter from the Church’s eye, you may see symmetry, mathematical beauty.  You reiterated the importance, above all, of the richness and the beauty of family life, likewise through the movement of the Holy Spirit, Justice Kennedy affirmed in his ruling regarding marriage equality that no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, and sacrifice, and FAMILY.  In forming a marital union two people (regardless of body parts which soon enough turn to dust) become something greater than they once were.

Marriage embodies a love that may endure even beyond death.  It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. We in the LGBT community respect it so much that we want to be part of it, find fulfillment in it for themselves and proclaim its great value to others. 

The loving and equal affirmation of LGBT people, Holy Father, is human dignity. It is this generation’s spiritual revelation, that I deeply pray every night that your will ultimately proclaim during your Papacy. 

I know in this life I will never meet with you, Holy Father, to sit down together and share in the spirit of Christ's Love, but in heaven when all is clearly seen, I pray we will see eye-to-eye as brothers of the faith in the most holy council of Our Lord. 

I’d like to end this letter with another mention of my husband. Holy Father you took the name of my most admired saint. Fifteen years ago when I showed Robert, the film Brother Son, Sister Moon by Franco Zeffirelli’s he cried. Two weeks before your ascendancy to the Throne of Saint Peter, Robert told a friend, who had hardened their heart toward our one true and Apostolic Church, they should watch the film because “Saint Francis of Assisi was what being a Christian and Catholic means…”

With Great Love in Christ Our Savior,

Thomas Eugene Fulton,
Washington, DC

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Our Marriage is Now Equal and The Whole World Knows It!

By Robert Hudson Westover

My husband and I knew something incredibly unusual for us was unfolding after the Marriage Equality ruling was handed down last Friday by the Supreme Court. We were there, outside the imposing white marble facade of America's most iconic building of Justice with the words carved in marble above it's giant bronze doors: Equal Justice Under Law.

The general consensus was that a ruling wasn't supposed to be handed down until Monday, June 29, or the high court's last day in session for the year. This is how the other landmark Gay Rights rulings had been handled in the past (see my previous blog post on the End of DOMA ruling in 2013).

Tom and I ten minutes before the Marriage Equality Ruling.
But I had a premonition that it would happen on Friday and told Tom we needed to get to the Court in the morning, before 10 AM (the time that rulings for the day are handed down). Fortunately, we both work walking distance from the Supreme Court, so we rendezvoused at about 15 minutes before the rulings of the day would be announced. 

Would I be right?

Our hearts beat rapidly in anticipation as we hoped and prayed that for the first time in our lives, the statement Equal Justice would be met out in its totality. Would this day bring us unfathomable joy by changing our lives forever and making our marriage, our love, truly equal under the law? Or would it be yet another half measure of dignity handed out to us like ravaged prisoners hoping for the full pardon that would someday open our cell doors and free us--forever--from the jail house of second class citizenship? 

We knew this ruling was going to change the lives of millions...Tom and I just two of those millions.

And when that crowd shouted out LOVE HAS WON! we jumped for joy, broke into tears and just held each other.

A picture taken of US by CBS News moments after the ruling.


It took 15 years to get Equal Justice in our marriage.

Many, many more years for many others.

"What do you think of the swiftness of the change?" One reporter asked us. Tom replied "Swiftness? It's been over 50 years since WE started our fight for equality. It hasn't come fast enough... We love you Justice Kennedy!"

"Kiss your husband!" a reporter asked, so I did!


And then many other reporters started asking us questions, taking our picture and filming us. This had happened the last time a great barrier of bigotry had fallen: DOMA. In fact, the reporters were asking lots of us, lots of questions. We were more than thrilled to respond. Maybe some young person, struggling under the weight of oppression might hear our story and be inspired to love themselves, feel sorry for their persecutors and look forward to a life in a community of kindred hearts.

But, to our amazement, that day, our ripple in the pond of outreach was beyond anything we could have imagined. We knew this when a text arrived from a friend we hadn't heard from in ages telling us to look at CBS New's Twitter page. There we were, in full embrace--our devotion and love--for all the world to see.

And the world did see, read and hear from us! On six continents! 

As the day unfolded, and into the night, the texts and Facebook messages kept coming: Saw you in the Huffington Post! One friend wrote from LA. Then the PBS News Hour reporter who had interview us texted to tell us we'd be featured at the top of the hour as the Network's lead story.

Three days later and we're still blown away. Think of how many millions of LGBTQ folks have seen that, "Yes, it does get better." 

Tom and I are so very humbled and grateful to have been able to speak for the LGBTQ Community that historic day. There were so many of us, the quiet foot soldiers there that day, and many of our voices were not broadcast to the world. That's the price we pay for loyalty to our cause, to our community.

From the Huffington Post. 


But, sometimes, like what happened for us, the spotlight turns and there you are. As Christians we believe that God does work in mysterious ways. We don't always understand it, but all things can (and often do) work together for those who have faith. So many words and expressions are timeless and this quote from Psalms really says it for us--for what happened on that momentous day "This is the Lord's work and it is marvelous in our eyes..."

                                                                             ***

Below are links to some of the worldwide media coverage our voice received.

North America:
Lead story PBS News Hour

Yahoo News

The Huffington Post

CBS News Twitter

International Pick Up

South America:

Africa:

Australia:

Asia:

Middle East:

Europe:
http://www.newsjs.com/us/its-reason-to-live-here/


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Last Knight of JFK’s Camelot has Died

A tribute to Hugh D. "Yusha" Auchincloss III

By Robert Hudson Westover

I believe the course of history changed one summer evening over steak and daiquiris at the Auchincloss family estate, Merrywood, in northern Virginia. That was the night Hugh D. “Yusha” Auchincloss III entertained, with his stepsister, a young Congressman from Massachusetts.

Despite some confusion by biographers and journalists, the dinner party was Yusha’s idea (or so he told me). His stepsister, Jackie, was attempting to win over the heart of a man she had met a few months prior but was getting nowhere with him romantically. 

His name was John F. Kennedy. 

After that fateful dinner party a match was made and shortly thereafter Jaqueline Bouvier would become Mrs. John F. Kennedy and play a role in history that would put both her and her husband in the pantheon of the unforgettable personages of recorded civilization.


Yusha Auchincloss (left) with Robert H. Westover
Hammersmith Farm, Newport, RI 2013
Years later, at another dinner party, at yet another Auchincloss estate, Hammersmith Farm, in Newport, Rhode Island, Yusha had this to say about the couple he’d helped to match make,  “First, Mr. President, I want to congratulate you. You’ve been a very good president. I’m glad you had your wedding here in Newport. I’m glad you’re celebrating your wedding anniversary here with Jackie. But I have to remind you: if you hadn’t gotten engaged to Jackie, my stepsister, neither one of you would have been in the White House. And I wouldn’t have had a chance to stay in the White House. So I have to thank you for that!”

What Yusha left out in his now famous toast was that without him, JFK’s Camelot would possibly have never existed.

I call Yusha a knight of Camelot because he not only facilitated that decisive evening at Merrywood, he also became an important adviser to the future President on Middle Eastern issues right up until JFK’s assassination.

But most importantly he was a man both JFK and Jackie could confide in and never worry about a tell-all-book-deal. The First couple was not mistaken in relying on this thoughtful, gentle man. He never betrayed them. He never revealed to the press so many of their secrets. Because of this, few know that Yusha spent many an hour at a sickly John Kennedy’s bedside reading or watching TV with the future President. And, few know that it was Yusha who Jackie considered her dearest friend until her dying day. “You know how much I love you…” she wrote to him just before her death in 1994.





My relationship with Yusha developed in the twilight years of his life. His beloved aunt, a former Russian countess, Olga C. Morgan, was a dear friend of mine and someone I was so close to that I referred to her as my “honorary godmother”. Yusha and I would sit and listen to tapes that I had recorded of Olga, who had passed away in 1991(to read more about my relationship with Olga see previous blog postings below). We became instant “family” and he let me call him “uncle” because “a lot of people call me that…” he jovially commented in his charming wit that only those who knew him could understand.


My husband, Tom Fulton (left), chats with Uncle Yusha about middle east politics. The cane Yusha is holding
was given to him by President John F. Kennedy on one of his visits to Hammersmith Farm in Newport, RI

I will greatly miss my uncle Yusha and only regret I had not spent more time with him. He was the embodiment of a true Noble spirit. If the world were full of Yusha Auchincloss’ we’d have a much better place to live and, now without him, the world has one less living example of honesty and kindness.


The aspect of his passing I'm comforted by is knowing that he died peacefully at his beloved home on Hammersmith Farm—the home of his ancestors. “Behold the upright man, for the end of that man is peace.”

Hugh D. "Yusha" Auchincloss III with Robert H. Westover at
Hammersmith Farm, June, 2014