The people who brought the $100 million Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington to fruition were honored last night with a gala celebration on the lawn of his Mount Vernon plantation, the library’s new home.
Fred W. Smith, chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, dined with Mount Vernon’s chief executive officer, Curtis Viebranz, and Jonathan Witter, Capital One Bank’s president of retail and direct banking and a library donor.
The foundation contributed more than $30 million to the libary. David Rubenstein, who was not present last night, was among those who gave at the $10 million-to-$29 million level.
A meal of Chesapeake crab, beef tenderloin and chocolate crunch cake was served in a tent with guards in colonial soldiers’ uniforms. Historian David McCullough, author of “1776,” enhanced the evening’s historical ambience.
Before the meal, 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, the president of the Perot Foundation, stood on the piazza overlooking the Potomac and talked about his collection of paintings depicting Washington, which have been copied for Mount Vernon.
Nearby Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, and Republican candidate for president last year, said his family has also joined the ranks of major Mount Vernon donors. As for his own political future, he said, “We’re in private time right now,” as his wife, Mary Kaye, smiled.
Guests debated how the founding father would manage the debt-ceiling crisis, Syria, Iran and other issues.
“He would do something selfless,” one guest said.
“I have a schoolgirl crush on George Washington,” confessed Amy Grant, who slid off her shoes and strapped a guitar over her black gown to perform a set with her husband, Vince Gill.
“We were the best you could get for free,” Gill joked.
He said he always enjoyed coming to Washington, because like the man the city is named for, it reminds him of the power of personal sacrifice. He said going to Arlington National Cemetery was “the most spiritual experience of my life.”
The evening ended on the lawn where performers in colonial attire read from Washington’s letters.
Then the Mount Vernon doors opened and an actor dressed as George Washingon stood before the guests, many of whom held glasses of Moet Imperial and looked dumbstruck by the actor’s likeness.
Fireworks exploded while patriotic songs were played.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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