Repeatedly over the course of the past decade, a singular American patriot has stepped forward to play a major role in setting the future course of Mount Vernon. Sadly, Robert H. Smith died unexpectedly at the age of 81 on the 29th of December, leaving a remarkable legacy of projects and programs which reflect his generosity. “Bob Smith was a driving force behind a long list of Mount Vernon projects that together, helped to change the experience for visitors, and our ability to reach out beyond our gates,” noted James Rees, President of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “I valued his advice, his exceptional taste, and his enthusiasm for history -- he pushed us hard to make Mount Vernon the best that we could be.”
Robert H. Smith and his wife Clarice initiated their support of Mount Vernon in 2000 by sponsoring the creation of an auditorium in the expanded Mount Vernon Inn complex. To help bring this new space to life, they endowed a three-part lecture series in honor of their daughter Michelle.
The Smiths also played a significant role in the building of both the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, underwriting the larger theater in the first facility and the multimedia presentation on the Revolutionary War in the second—the latter in honor of their son David. They also endowed the position of senior curator, created a book-publishing fund, underwrote the cost of numerous brick walkways connecting the new facilities to the historic area, funded a redesign of the Mount Vernon Web site, and sponsored the sculpting of the four life-size bronze statues of George and Martha Washington and two of their grandchildren, posed as if greeting visitors entering the Ford Orientation Center. A nationally recognized collector of Renaissance bronzes, Mr. Smith was consulted in the creation of these statues from beginning to end.
In addition, Mr. Smith volunteered to create and fund what is now known as the “big tree program.” Sixty-six mature trees, some of them 40 feet tall, have given the landscape around the new facilities the kind of presence only nature can bestow.
Most recently, he funded the creation of a Master Plan for the Mount Vernon estate, in preparation for building the equivalent of a presidential library for George Washington, whom he always declared was “the most important of the Founding Fathers.”
Robert H. Smith’s family-owned company is best known for developing the Crystal City complex in northern Virginia. He served as chairman of Vornado/Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, a division of Vornado Realty Trust, and as chairman of Charles E. Smith Residential, a division of Archstone-Smith.
Bob Smith’s philanthropy has touched numerous local, national, and international organizations, and in every case, his support has also included lending energy and expertise. His generosity has had a lasting impact at several other historic sites (including Monticello, Montpelier, and Lincoln’s Cottage) as well as at the University of Maryland, the National Gallery of Art, the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Foundation, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Regent, Vice Regents and staff of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association express their heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Smith’s wife Clarice, his children Michelle and David, and his grandchildren Michael, Stacey, Alexandra and Max. The achievements of Robert H. Smith at Mount Vernon and other important historic sites will serve as a living legacy to his generosity, his vision and his patriotism.