NOTE: The following is adapted from a message I wrote to my colleagues at the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the Monday of my last week as the EVP and Chief Preservation Officer with the organization.
In a typical three-point sermon from the Baptist church of my youth, the preachers would: 1) tell you what they were going to say (the introduction); 2) then say it (the sermon); then 3) tell you what they had just said (the conclusion). To keep up the symmetry, the sermons themselves often had three points. The last of my Monday morning emails will be my personal three-point sermon.
I’m going to expand my audience beyond the Preservation Division and write to the full Trust staff along with a number of friends outside the organization. In doing so, I’ll use the first part to explain a bit about these Monday emails. Second, I want to say a few words about what the past twenty-two-plus-years at the National Trust have meant to me, both professionally and personally. Finally, I’ll end with information about how we can stay in touch after Wednesday, my last day in the office.
Point 1: So What Is the Purpose of These Monday Emails?
As I returned from sabbatical at the American Academy in Rome in 2016, I began sending an email every Monday morning to the staff in the Preservation Division as a way to connect personally with these 200+ individuals located all across the country. The topic was not always preservation. In fact, it seldom was. Instead, I used this forum to mull over conversations I’d had with colleagues and friends, comment on things that were on my mind, reflect on events in the broader world, share stories from my experience in leading teams and organizations, and provide recommendations from my reading list. I often said that I wrote about things that I needed to hear.
Over time, these Monday emails were passed around and people asked to be added to the distribution list. Now about a quarter of those who receive them are outside the Preservation Division and the National Trust. I began repurposing these emails on my personal blog site under the category of Monday Musings. If you want to go back and read several of the top ones in terms of views, here they are:
- Let’s Start It Up and See Why It Doesn’t Work – A story from historian and NTHP Honorary Trustee David McCullough on the ways that failure can lead to the unpacking of assumptions, new perspectives, the acquisition of knowledge, and new paths to success.
- Hope Is Grounded in Memory – This little meditation, written on the occasion of my 20th anniversary at the Trust, revolves around the idea of hope in the context of life’s milestones.
- Complicity in a Shared Work of the Imagination – I wrote this post after launching the National Treasure campaign at Clayborn Temple in Memphis, the church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to the striking sanitation workers.
- Be Present When Serendipity Strikes – I received wonderful (and often humorous) feedback from this story about the time I (finally) woke up on a flight home from Nashville, only to realize I was sitting next to Muriel Anderson, one of my guitar heroes.
- Kindness – This is a post I wrote in January about the response I received after announcing I was stepping down from my position at the National Trust.
If you are simply interested in finally figuring out how my mind works, the best place to look is the 60 Lessons From 60 Years post that I wrote on the occasion of my 60th birthday a few years ago.
Point 2: These Past 22+ Years
I became a member of the National Trust in 1975, and working for the nation’s largest preservation nonprofit was a long-held dream. It has been the privilege of my professional life to help the National Trust do its vital work over the past 22 years, working alongside and learning from so many of you. I won’t name any names because I will inadvertently leave out someone who is very important to me. But I will say that together—and with partners and others outside the Trust—we saved some of the country’s most important places that continue to link past, present and future generations together—or as the poet Remo Fasani phrased this—having “the past live in the present and in the future both, to have time again vibrate as one.”
Together we shared and celebrated stories from America’s past that opened up new understandings of the nation’s history and why we are the people we are today. Together we have worked to make the Trust a leader in the fight to ensure that old places are part of our individual and collective memories, connecting over a continuum of time, to create community and national identity. Together we have shown that there is a future for our past.
I have also shared personal milestones and events with many of you over the years, including a great send-off party earlier this month. In a 1994 commencement address at Vassar College, Bernadine Healy, M.D. said the following;
“As a physician who has been deeply privileged to share the most profound moments of people’s lives, including their final moments, let me tell you a secret. People facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated. At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you. The circle of love is everything and is a good measure of a past life. It is the gift of greatest worth.”
Point 3: Not Goodbye, But So Long
I don’t plan to retire, but I do plan to take some time to travel, reflect, and figure out what’s next. Am I finally getting a gap year forty years after graduating from college, or having an encore career? Who knows? One of our trustees recently stepped down from a high-profile position. Building on that experience, she told me, “Don’t be afraid of some blank days or weeks (on your calendar). It’s where the good things begin to happen.” That sounds like good advice.
- I plan to keep writing, including my Monday Musings, on www.MoreToCome.net. To receive an email when I post these works, go to the bottom of the left column in the desktop/laptop version, or to the bottom right on your mobile device to follow me.
- I am NOT on Facebook.
Here is one final story of mine from 2014 that is about children, but is—in reality—about life:
“I was in the line at the pharmacy this morning, waiting to drop off a prescription. A mom with a set of boy-girl twins was in front of me, with the children in their two-seater stroller. (The heavy equipment phase of child-rearing, as we used to describe it.) The kids were beautiful, and they were having the most wonderful conversation about shoes. The mom was so patient and kind. It was a joy to simply stand there and watch the love. After passing along their prescription, the mom gathered her things to leave. I asked about the twins age. She replied that they were two-and-a-half. I smiled, and said I had 21-year old boy-girl twins, and this brought back many memories. The mom asked if I had any advice. I replied simply, ‘Savor every moment.’”
As roots musician Tim O’Brien says so eloquently, “I hate to say goodbye, so I’ll just say so long.”
Have a good week.
More to come…
Image: DJB Speaking from the pulpit at the Ryman Auditorium: The Mother Church of Country Music