In Celebration of Elizabeth

Elizabeth  McClung and DJB at Belle Grove 072613(I don’t often use More to Come… for work-related posts, but last Friday evening at the National Trust we celebrated the retirement of a dear friend – Elizabeth McClung – and I wanted to share my admiration for this stalwart of preservation.  I was privileged to speak at Elizabeth’s retirement celebration.  The following are my remarks.)

Leadership comes in many forms.  We all know of the alpha male, Type A personalities who are celebrated as leaders on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress.  These are the types who bark out orders and expect others to follow.

These are the “born leaders” – or so they say.

But there is another type of leadership that is – to my mind – much more effective.  It generally comes from people who learn to be leaders, rather than assume they know it all from birth.  I put more stock in these types of leaders in part because I am reminded of the tale of a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village not unlike nearby Strasburg.  They walked by an old man sitting beside a fence and in a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, “Were any great men or women born in this village?”  “Nope” the old man replied.  “Only babies.”

This other type of leadership is – to paraphrase Jim Rohn – resolute, but not rude.  Humble, but not timid.  Proud, but not arrogant.  Humorous, but without folly.

I want to use my few minutes today to talk about an extraordinary leader who exemplifies these qualities:  our friend and colleague Elizabeth McClung.

Elizabeth and I joined the National Trust just months apart from each other in 1996, and we shared a common connection through our preservation work in the valley town of Staunton, Virginia.

I didn’t know Elizabeth exceptionally well when we were in Staunton, but I have come to know – and admire – her after 17 years of truly effective leadership here at Belle Grove.

Elizabeth is a leader who sees opportunity where others see challenges.  When she arrived at Belle Grove and found the financial systems and computer infrastructure “a little short of adequate” she didn’t balk or complain.  She made her typical light-hearted comment – “We were the mule train on the information highway” – and then set about to fix the problem.

When development threatened the view shed, Elizabeth didn’t fret.  She picked up the phone and spoke with my boss at the time – Richard Moe – and with me and others at the National Trust and told us of her plan for raising the money and buying the land.  At the Trust, we didn’t say yes to every site director who came with a big idea, but in Elizabeth we knew we had a partner – and a leader – who could deliver.

Later, Elizabeth called me with this hare-brained scheme to help birth a National Park like no other…a National Park where the Park Service didn’t own the land!  It was unconventional, but Elizabeth and her colleagues knew that this was just the type of park that was needed here in the Shenandoah Valley and she was certain that Belle Grove could be the lynchpin to making it happen.

She was right of course, and over the course of what seemed like 25 years (but was really only ten) she never gave up, always collaborating with others, always leading in her quiet, humorous, but oh-so-effective way.  And we now celebrate the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park and the stories it tells of our nation’s history.

There are so many ways I could describe Elizabeth’s leadership, but I went to see a number of my colleagues at the National Trust and said, “If you had one word you could use to describe Elizabeth, what would it be?”  And the words just poured out.  Words like:

  •  Joyful
  • Warm
  • Enthusiastic
  • Gracious
  • Collaborative
  •  Visionary
  • Songstress (This had something to do with a ribald, hillbilly West Virginia song that she learned from her family and sang one evening at a site director’s meeting.  I am sure that alcohol was involved!)

I also heard the words:

  • Giving
  • Committed
  • Optimistic

These all describe the Elizabeth I know and have loved working with for 17 years.  But that optimism is the value she brings that I want to remember most about her as she heads into retirement.  Elizabeth can look at any situation and find the path forward…the good in the person…the way to get everyone to make the right choice.

Our National Trust president, Stephanie Meeks, could not be with us today, but she asked me to make a special presentation on her behalf.  It is the President’s Award, and I’ll ask Elizabeth to join me while I read the citation.

In recognition of her nearly 17 years of service as the Executive Director of Belle Grove, Inc., the National Trust honors Elizabeth McClung for her unwavering leadership and enthusiastic embrace of collaboration at our important National Trust Historic Site in Middletown, Virginia.  Under Elizabeth’s guidance, Belle Grove tripled the size of its holdings and entered into a partnership with the National Park Service; achieved great success in fundraising; and firmly established Belle Grove as a community, state, and national treasure.  We will always be grateful for her effusive optimism, well-known throughout the Shenandoah Valley and by her colleagues across the nation, as well as for her extraordinary commitment to Belle Grove and the National Trust.  For these accomplishments and many more, we join the Belle Grove Family in offering Elizabeth McClung our deepest affection and thanks.  Signed:  Stephanie K. Meeks, President

Max DePree is the retired CEO of the furniture and design pacesetter Herman Miller, and through the years I’ve come to appreciate his definition of leadership.  DePree says:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Elizabeth has always been willing to recognize and define reality.  She always says thank you.  And she is the epitome of the servant leader.

Elizabeth, thank you for being such a terrific leader, colleague, and friend.  And all the best wishes in your retirement from all your friends and colleagues at the National Trust.

More to come…

DJB

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