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Retirement Message from Mount Vernon's President, James C. Rees

Wed, 04/04/2012
Dear Friends,
I am writing to share some news concerning my tenure as president of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  After 18 years as chief executive, I have announced my retirement in June of this year due to health considerations.  While this comes with great regret, I am sustained by the privilege of working for almost three decades with our hardworking and inspiring Ladies of the Association as well as our superb staff.  Together, we have accomplished so much more than we expected, and one of my strongest memories has been my interaction with so many engaged and generous supporters, such as you.

Since my arrival in 1983, it has been my honor to carry out our mission to preserve Washington’s beloved home and to educate people from around the world about his sterling legacy of leadership and character.  This mission started back in 1853 with the vision of Ann Pamela Cunningham to purchase and restore the General’s iconic home.  Her efforts saved the Estate from potential ruin and launched a national movement for historic preservation and education, a movement upon which you have also made a lasting impact.  Through the generosity of thousands of dedicated and patriotic Americans like you, we have been able to expand the scale, the depth, and the outreach of this organization as we share the rich heritage given to us by George Washington – our nation’s foremost founding father – with countless visitors, students, and teachers.

Today, more than one million people tour Mount Vernon every year.  They are able to see the estate much as it existed in Washington’s day.  His mansion reflects the elegance of the great family seat that he established, while the picturesque but enterprising village surrounding it now features a working blacksmith shop, restored slave quarters, and a functioning model of his farming operation, all embraced by beautifully landscaped grounds maintained with great authenticity.  Truly nothing is more satisfying than hearing a child (or his parent) tell me that the estate transported him back in time, and how much we helped him appreciate all that Washington created – even without any of our modern conveniences.

Visitors are also able to discover the real George and Martha Washington through our state-of-the-art museum and orientation and education centers, which all opened in late 2006.  I wish you could see the faces of amazement of the schoolchildren and adults alike as their seats tremble at the sound of the cannons roaring during Washington’s military campaigns in Boston and Yorktown, or while snow falls around them as Washington crosses the Delaware River.

We have also vastly expanded the walls of the Estate – in a figurative sense – as we have made great strides in returning George Washington to his rightful place in the classrooms.  More than 8 million copies of our Biography Lessons on Leadership have been circulated to 5th grade teachers in all 50 states, and we produced 14 satellite-delivered distance learning programs about Washington and the founding era, which close to 100 million teachers and students have signed up to view.  We have also distributed more than 6,000 portraits of Washington – for free – to schools nationwide.  We also launched a new website in late 2011, which greatly enhances the planning experience for our actual visitors and provides a technology platform for the dissemination of information about Washington for our online visitors.

What also gives me great comfort and hope for the future – as I retire – is the knowledge that our endowment now stands at over $125 million.  I take great pride in knowing that every one of those dollars was provided by private citizens like you.  Mount Vernon does not accept government funding, and beginning with Ann Pamela Cunningham, 100% of the support for Mount Vernon has been provided through generous and patriotic individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Today, we are in the home stretch of our latest effort to secure the General’s legacy through the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.  More than $83 million has already been committed toward our $100 million goal, thereby ensuring that Washington’s priceless book and manuscript collection will be saved for scholars and students of the future.  Of equal importance, the Library will allow us to expand and energize our educational outreach, including the establishment of an institute to instill the values and lessons learned from Washington’s leadership among senior managers from education, business, government, and the military.  Washington’s character and leadership were once our nation’s greatest natural resources.  These programs will ensure that our leaders of today and tomorrow will continue to have the opportunity to learn from his example.

Knowing that the goals of this latest effort are now within reach, and seeing the actual foundation of Washington’s presidential library begin to take shape just a short walk from his home, is a wonderful capstone of my life’s work here at Mount Vernon.  However, there is still much work to be done, for the National Library and for many other worthy projects.  The best parting tribute that anyone could give me would be to continue their support for this most noble of causes.

My depth of gratitude to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is exceeded only by my heartfelt appreciation for your support.  Thanks to your generous help, we have been able to preserve Washington’s place in American history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen,” now and for many generations to come.

With best wishes always,

James C. Rees