Save Battlefields in Honor of Jim Lighthizer's 65th Birthday

A Message from David Duncan, Director of Membership and Development

David Duncan
David Duncan, Director of Membership and Development, Civil War Trust

From the desk of David Duncan
Director of Membership and Development

Dear Friend,

I realize that it is unusual for me to be writing to you – rather than the Civil War Trust’s fearless leader, Jim Lighthizer – but I have a very special reason for contacting you today.

You may not know this, but Jim is about to reach a significant milestone in his life: on March 20th, Jim will celebrate his 65th birthday.

At a time when many people are either already retired or at least seriously considering it, Jim is still charging ahead, with all of the energy of someone half his age.

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However, I can tell you that Jim fully recognizes the enormity of the task still ahead of us, the huge, important job of saving our remaining significant Civil War battlefield land in the very short time we have left, and working under that kind of pressure day after day can be very draining.

So today, will you do me the honor of giving Jim a huge boost of confidence by writing a few words of personal encouragement on the enclosed card?  My plan is to surprise him with your card during an upcoming weekly staff meeting.

I know your moral support will mean the world to him, especially now that the Civil War Trust – the cause to which he has dedicated the rest of his life – enters one of the most challenging periods in our history.

So please, if you could, write him a short, personal note to help mark the event of being 65 years young!  Thank you.

I am sure you must agree with me on one point: Thank God that we have Jim Lighthizer to lead this battle to preserve the hallowed ground you and I care so much about. 

I don’t just say these things because he signs my paychecks, and I hope you concur: With his unique lifelong combination of legal, business and governmental experience, he is exactly the right man in exactly the right job at exactly the right time.

And I didn’t even mention his great depth of knowledge of – and just plain love for – all aspects of the Civil War!

Jim at Third Winchester
Jim at the Third Winchester Battlefield (Rob Shenk)

Having worked for Jim for six years now, I can confirm for you that he has the stamina of Nathan Bedford Forrest (as well as occasional flashes of the same, ah, “intensity”), the drive and determination of Ulysses S. Grant, the political acumen of Lincoln, and the leadership qualities of Robert E. Lee.

Having been an attorney, member of the Maryland House of Delegates, elected County Executive, and the Secretary of Transportation for the State of Maryland, Jim knows how to work with legislators on the local, state and federal levels.

His experience has been worth literally tens of millions of dollars for battlefield preservation over the years, as he has helped create many of the matching funds that the Trust currently utilizes today.

In his leadership positions at the state level, he was personally responsible for saving thousands of acres of battlefield land and other open space, enhancing the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of residents and annual visitors for all time.

And, again, I don’t just say this because my annual performance review is coming up (actually, my first day at work here eleven years ago was March 20, Jim’s birthday), but in my twenty-five year professional career, Jim is the best administrator I have ever known.

He truly leads by example.  He drives those of us on the staff very hard, but no harder than he drives himself.  He likes to say that, by running a “lean” organization, every staff member has two or three jobs.  Well, if we each have two or three, Jim has ten!

He is the chief spokesman, the lead fundraiser, the big gun who meets with government officials, the hands-on manager, the main contact with our all-volunteer Board of Trustees, the head strategist…you get the idea.  There is no part of our business in which he is not intimately involved – all without being a micro-manager (thank goodness!).

You should also know that there is no such thing as “office hours” for Jim.  His “work day” will usually begin before it gets light, as he returns calls and e-mails on his cell phone on his drive in to the office, or drives to the airport to catch a plane, and most of his evenings end the same way.  By the way, that’s often seven days a week, too.

Grueling rush-hour car trips to Richmond, Spotsylvania County, Gettysburg, Antietam or the Shenandoah Valley are a regular occurrence, and if you’ve ever driven in the Washington metropolitan area, or up and down Interstate 95, well, then you’ll forgive Jim if his language sometimes degenerates into something one might hear from a colorful Civil War quartermaster confronting a balky mule.

Twenty to thirty times every year, Jim is on an airplane, flying (always coach) to inspect a piece of battlefield land we’re thinking of buying, visiting an influential local decision-maker, inspiring a preservation group, meeting with a potential new supporter…or any of a hundred other crucial duties.

Jim at Glendale
Jim Lighthizer taking notes at the Glendale Battlefield (Rob Shenk)

If he has to stay overnight, it’s always at a Hampton Inn, or cheaper, keeping in mind that we are stewards of your support and trust, but that we must always work even harder to keep it.

While some non-profit CEOs have expansive suites with inspiring vistas, the main attraction that Jim can see from his modest office is the statue of General George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” a block away.

(By the way, you have a standing invitation to visit our offices at any time you are in the DC area, and inspect them for yourself; we would love to see you.  The door is always open.)

But you see, Jim doesn’t care about all those trappings of “success,” even though he has been professionally successful all of his life.  That’s because, at this stage in his life, he is intently focused on one overriding goal: saving America’s remaining unprotected Civil War battlefields.

As I mentioned to you, Jim will soon turn 65.  He has often said that he hopes this job – CEO of the Civil War Trust – is the last job he will ever have, and from my perspective, I believe that’s just what will happen.

You and I both realize that we – the adults who are alive right now – are the last generation that will ever have a chance to save the most important Civil War battlefield ground that is still untouched and undeveloped.  As the saying goes, if we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

At many important sites, the battlefields will either be “saved or paved” within the next five years.  We may possibly have another two to three years beyond that in some places, but surely, as Jim preaches regularly all across the nation, the ultimate fate of all of this hallowed ground will be decided within the next ten years or so.

Ten years from now, God willing, Jim will be 75, hopefully still enjoying his practical jokes on the staff and his success in saving forever such an enormous part of our nation’s treasured past.

I know nothing would make him happier than to be able to count you as a friend who stood with the Trust over all those years…a friend who helped save tens of thousands of additional acres of hallowed ground as a gift to this great nation.

Let me close this too-long letter with a personal note. In my own study of the Civil War, I have often marveled at how those common soldiers found the courage to face sheets of withering fire and still advance relentlessly toward their goal.

I am now beginning to understand.  The ones who were successful… followed great leaders.

Jim would never say that he is the main reason behind the Trust’s tremendous accomplishments over the past eleven years.  He will give all the credit to you, the Board, the staff – everyone but himself.

But I will say it, and I hope you will join me in saying it, too: the Civil War Trust would not be anywhere near as successful without Jim Lighthizer.  Period.

Please take just a moment to handwrite a personal message to Jim on the enclosed card, marking the milestone of 65 very full years, and a wish for many more.  Then also, I ask you to consider making a generous gift today in Jim’s honor, in recognition of his outstanding leadership and dedication to our cause.

Jim at Award's Banquet
President Jim Lighthizer speaks to members during an awards banquet at the Civil War Trust's annual conference. (Bruce Guthrie)

I believe that Jim wrote in a recent letter to you about how we have several extraordinarily significant and expensive battlefield tracts that could literally break at any day.  We have not yet put out specific appeals for funds on those sites because we do not mail an appeal to our members until we have a signed contract on a piece of land.  We NEVER want to be in a position where we have asked you to help buy land on a deal and then have the negotiations fall through – that is just bad business.

Consequently, though, that puts us in the quandary of potentially needing lots of funds very quickly – even faster than we can put out appeals for help – if several unprecedented contracts come through all at once.  Plus, I know that even as much as you support our important cause, nobody wants to hear from us every week!  I feel the same way.

So, to be ready for several huge deals that I anticipate will be breaking upon us soon, I ask you to please consider making your generous gift today, again, in Jim Lighthizer’s honor.

I hope you agree that a gift in a multiple of $65 would certainly be appropriate -- $32.50, $65, $130, $260, $650, $1,300 (heck, $6,500,000 if you have it laying around, not doing anything – I know a few good battlefields Jim could buy with it!).

And just so you know, I am trying to keep this a surprise, so mum’s the word, please – Jim told me the other evening (as he returned to the office after 6:00 p.m., a Subway sandwich in hand for his dinner, following a full day on Capitol Hill) that he didn’t want any big deal made about his birthday.   But in an act of rank insubordination, I am ignoring that order, and I hope you will join me!
Please help me in saluting Jim Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust.  Many thanks!

With warmest regards, your obed’t serv’t,

David N. Duncan
Director, Membership and Development

P.S.  We recently received a note from a member who said, “Don’t ever let Jim Lighthizer retire – he’s a treasure himself!”  Truer words were never spoken!

In all seriousness, I believe that future generations of battlefield visitors owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to both you and Jim Lighthizer, even though most of those people will never know your names.  I hope you are proud of what we have accomplished together, and I give you my deepest thanks.

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