Today marks James Lighthizer’s final day as the president of the American Battlefield Trust. For nearly two decades, Jim has been a household name in the Civil War community for his leadership in the battlefield preservation community. ECW wishes him well in the adventures that await him (including continued service on ABT’s board as president emeritus).
Tomorrow, David Duncan will assume the reins as the new president. (You can see ECW’s exclusive interview with David on the ECW YouTube page.) We wish David the best of luck as he takes over an incredible organization.
This afternoon, Jim shared a farewell message with his friends in the preservation community. We’re pleased to be able to share his message with you.
My dear friends,
Almost 21 years ago — December 1, 1999 — I reported for duty as president of what was then known as the Civil War Preservation Trust. I’d been involved on the board of one of the pre-merger organizations, but that was the day I became a professional preservationist, when I officially made protecting America’s hallowed battlegrounds my life’s work. My career to that point had undoubtedly been successful — lawyer, elected official, state cabinet secretary — but in just a matter of hours, I knew that I had landed in the greatest job I would ever hold. Empowered with a new sense of purpose, I quickly decided it would be the last job I would ever hold.
Today is the day that I follow through with that instinct. As hard as it is to believe, this is my last day at the Trust, and tomorrow I begin my retirement. I could not let this occasion pass without taking the opportunity to write to you one last time to reflect on this incredible era in my life.
Twenty years passed almost in the blink of an eye on this incredible journey we took together, building a legacy that both honors our ancestors and will inspire future generations. I hope you know that I was conscious each and every day that not a single one of the 53,000 acres we saved would have been possible without you, the members of this organization.
Spending the past 20 years as your president has been a privilege beyond what I could have imagined when I first fell in love with history and discovered that there were organizations out there working to protect it. Thank you for your unwavering support and generosity to this cause. Thank you for the confidence you placed in me and my team as we took on one ambitious goal after the next. YOU are the heart and the soul of this organization, not the Board or the staff. Nor even me, though I long stood at the helm.
I step down today knowing that this organization I love is in great hands. I am proud of the top-notch staff I have built and have total confidence in the capable Board of Trustees who guide our work. David Duncan, my longtime lieutenant who takes the reins tomorrow, has worked alongside me to build the Trust into a positive force for historic preservation in this nation. He has my utter faith and I know he will lead us on to further successes.
When I say “us,” I mean it. I look forward to being a part of all the great things we will continue to achieve together. You have my word that I will stay involved as a mentor and adviser, with a lifetime seat on the Board of Trustees as president emeritus. I will also remain an active member and Color Bearer — when you attend Trust events, I’ll be in the crowd alongside you. And we may cross paths in battlefield parks, as I spend time taking my grandchildren to the places you and I saved together.
Since I announced my intention to retire last fall, an overwhelming number of you have reached out to offer me kind words as I begin this new chapter in my life. I apologize that I have not been able to respond to each one personally – the response was humbling and overwhelming! – but know that I read them all and am profoundly grateful for the time we have spent together.
Thank you, my friends, for having allowed me to be part of your lives through our shared love of history. I wish you all the very best.
American Battlefield Trust
P.S. I think most of you know that Antietam has a special place in my heart because I started helping to save land there when I was Maryland Secretary of Transportation – years before I came to the Trust. Well, that makes it a particular a joy to offer you this as my very last announcement as President: We did it! Together, we saved the three key acres in Antietam’s West Woods I wrote to you about a few weeks ago. Thank you for rising to the occasion and helping us quickly complete this final transaction of my tenure.