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Thirteenth Regent (1986-1990)

Eugenia Merrill was born in 1922 in Madrid, where her father was serving as U.S. consul. After the family returned to America, she enrolled at the Potomac School in Washington, D.C., and then at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

In June 1942, Eugenia wed Dr. Robert Channing Seamans, Jr., who would serve as Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, associate administrator of NASA, and administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration, which in 1977 became the U.S. Department of Energy. He died in 2008.

Raising Support

Mrs. Seamans was elected Vice Regent for Massachusetts in 1975. She was soon appointed chair of the Development and Communications Committee, and she directed the creation in 1984 of the estate’s first membership-based support programs, the Friends of Historic Mount Vernon and the Mount Vernon One Hundred, both established to raise vital annual financial support.

She was elected Regent in October 1986. Accepting the badge of office in a time-honored ceremony in the Mansion’s large dining room, Mrs. Seamans pledged to further the work of her predecessors, “who have for 128 years lovingly cared for George Washington’s home through war and peace, bad times and good.”

Mrs. Seamans (center) with Vice Regents in 1990 planting flowering dogwood in Mount Vernon's restored hanging wood. MVLA.

Presidential Visits

As Regent, Mrs. Seamans hosted the April 19, 1989, visit to Mount Vernon of President George H. W. Bush and King Hussein of Jordan. That July, in tandem with the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and start of the French Revolution, she flew to France and hand-delivered the historic key to the Bastille to President Bush. This “symbol of liberty,” which the Marquis de Lafayette gave to George Washington, whom he called “the Father of Liberty,” is one of the Association’s most valued possessions. President Bush, in turn, presented the key to French President François Mitterand, and for nine days it was displayed at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris, before Mrs. Seamans brought it back to the Mansion.

Following her term as Regent, Mrs. Seamans resumed her role as Vice Regent for Massachusetts. She rallied donors and friends from the Bay State to raise more than $90,000 to facilitate a full restoration of the Mansion’s cupola and weathervane. This most thorough preservation effort in the structure’s history was completed in 1993, the year Mrs. Seamans retired.

Mrs. Seamans meets with President George H. W. Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand in France, where she hand-delivered the key to the Bastille that had originally been given to George Washington by Marquis de Lafayette in 1790. In 1989, this ceremony marked the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. MVLA.