The Corner

Jim Rees, R.I.P.

On September 9, James Conway Rees IV passed away at his home in Virginia. Anyone who has visited Mount Vernon in the past decade has seen the handiwork of Rees, who helmed the George Washington estate from 1994 to 2012.

“Jim was a true gentleman. Modest, courteous, and kind, he treated everyone with respect,” Bruce Cole, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, told me by e-mail. Rees’s “steadfast devotion to Washington underpinned his brilliant tenure at Mount Vernon,” he says.

During his time as president of Mount Vernon, Rees oversaw many projects focused on preservation, education, and research, including the addition in 2006 of an orientation center and a lovely museum, the renovation and reconstruction in the 2000s of Washington’s gristmill and long-lost distillery, and the opening in the 1990s of a permanent exhibit about agriculture that includes a re-creation of our founding farmer’s sixteen-sided threshing barn. Rees also did the heavy lifting in the fundraising for Mount Vernon’s new library and research center, which opened late last year.

Not since the 1930s — when a commission marked the bicentennial of Washington’s birth with celebrations and new scholarship across the country — has the nation seen such a flurry of activity related to Washington’s life and career. Noemie Emery, author of the finest one-volume biography of Washington, told me that “James Rees seems to have invented new ways to introduce great men to their country, for which we are all in his debt.” Cole agrees: “There is no one who has done more to keep the legacy of our first president alive.”

Whenever Rees spoke about Washington, his boyish enthusiasm shone through, as you can see for yourself in the videos of his several C-SPAN appearances. His 2007 book about Washington as a leader and businessman is worth a look, too. But there is no better way to appreciate Rees’s extraordinary accomplishment than to spend a day visiting Mount Vernon itself.

Jim Rees was just 62 when he died, much too young. Yet there is perhaps something poetic in the date of his passing, September 9, 2014, for it was on September 9, 1781, that General George Washington returned to Mount Vernon for the first time in more than six years. He had been away to the north, fighting for independence, and during the war’s darkest hours had occupied his troubled and homesick mind with thoughts of his Virginia estate. Now, with his French allies joining the fight in earnest, the end of the war — the day when Washington could lay down arms and return to “my own Vine and Fig tree” — seemed nearer at hand than ever before, and he enjoyed three days at Mount Vernon before heading off to Yorktown and destiny. How strangely fitting that on the anniversary of the day Washington’s war-weary eyes glimpsed his beloved home, Jim Rees, so long the faithful steward of that home, should find his own eternal rest.

— Adam Keiper is editor of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Most Popular


Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

Questions for Those Who Believed Jussie Smollett

The “we reported the Jussie Smollett case responsibly” contention has been blasted to smithereens. Twitter accounts and headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times reported as fact Jussie Smollett’s wildly implausible allegations, and many other journalists did so as ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More