Friday, July 24, 2015


Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Anne Khanh-Van, born in 1974, a resident of Virginia, has contributed many special articles.  After graduating with a degree in Finance/Accounting and residing for a period in France, the author relocated to the United States and currently spends her time between working, continuing her advanced education and writing...  Anne Khanh-Van received Grand Prize of Writing on America Contest for the Best Writing & Writer of the year of 2007.  She also received a Presidential Volunteer Service Award from the White House and USA Freedom Corps for over 900 hours of volunteer services in 2007 & 2008 and an Outstanding Academic Excellence award of the President’s Education Awards program in 2011.
The city where I live features the Potomac River, which runs past the nation’s capital, Washington, DC to the West, then continues East past boat docks, monuments and many historical sites, especially “Old Town” Alexandria, one of the oldest cities in the country... Every year, millions of tourists come to visit, regardless of the weather, sunny or snowing.
When I bought my new house and moved from the northwest to the southeast of Alexandria, I "showed off" with my family: "I am joining the neighborhood of the First President of the United States."  I was just joking a little bit when saying that, because on the way to my home there are street signs leading to Mount Vernon, home of the first President of the United States - George Washington.  At the time of my move, both of my parents had yet to arrive in the United States.  They were excited and looked forward to the opportunity to visit Mount Vernon... yet, time had passed; I had lived in southeast Alexandria almost 15 years (less than ten minutes' drive from President Washington's home); and I had still not stepped inside.  Being in the United States for a long time does not necessarily mean that we know enough about its history, especially the story of the “father” of this country, as he is known to many Americans.
Fate leads the path...
Then last summer, several companies in the same type of business as the company I was currently working with, contacted me and asked me to consider joining them.  After carefully comparing all the pros and cons, I selected the best offer and agreed to join them within a week.   This new company was located a bit further from my home, compared to where I was currently working; but there would be better opportunities to advance my career.  I enjoyed a farewell lunch with friends at the current company and was preparing to start the new job the following week, when the George Washington's Mount Vernon organization contacted me about a job opening.  I honestly told them that I'd already accepted a job offer with a different company; but I was still invited to come to talk about the opening in more details.  I became curious and wanted to explore this somewhat “last minute” and rare opportunity.
Attending an interview at Mount Vernon was a bit different: it would be my first time visiting the estate of the first President of the United States.  I was taken around the President’s private residence, visiting the upper and lower gardens; passing through fruit gardens and nurseries; and observing immense meadows with sheep, horses, cows and pigs lying under the sun.  By the time we finished the tour, I had spent nearly an hour outside on a warm mid-Summer’s day, and had begun to perspire just a bit… fortunately, however, I was guided into the cool air conditioning inside just in time.
Ford Orientation Center is where a regular visit to Mount Vernon begins for most tourists.  Each visitor steps away from the ticket counter and is almost immediately rewarded with the sight of the Washington family statues.  I stopped there for thirty seconds.  I wanted "spiritually" to be greeted by the Washingtons’ family and to shake their hands.
We continued our tour by entering the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, which displays a rich and comprehensive collection of objects that spans George Washington's lifetime.  The museum also presents a history of heroic efforts taken by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association to preserve, restore and manage this inheritance from the first President of the United States… an inheritance that has been protected for the benefit of all Americans for more than 160 years.
Washington's Family
During the "interview," which was quite a bit different from the routine, I was listening and observing more than talking.  Every step I took and every picture I saw was accompanied by narratives that were told with such enthusiasm, love and respect toward the Father of the country that I felt like a special guest of the President, rather than a job-interviewee.  That is actually the slogan of the Mount Vernon association: "Each visitor will be given a respectful and friendly welcome as a guest of honor of President George Washington and his wife, Martha Washington."
With more than six hundred employees, four hundred volunteers and a requirement to welcome more than a million visitors annually, the work ethic and attitude of each member of the Mount Vernon association’s team is to always embody George Washington’s courtesy and hospitality, a tradition at Mount Vernon for more than 250 years.
After more than an hour’s walking around, we arrived at the building where the Finance Department was situated and my interview began in earnest.  We discussed details of the job opening and its scope of responsibilities.  The Department was seeking innovation and process improvements, and the Controller ended our conversation with a very positive and persuasive statement: "There is no other workplace like this place.  Every day coming to work here, you will feel very special."  He was right.  There is only one first President of the United States.  There is only one Mount Vernon, which George Washington adopted as his homeland and his final resting place.  I thanked my hosts for their hospitality and for the nearly two hours’ time dedicated to me, and I asked to have a night to think everything over...
I left the place with mixed feelings: happy and excited!  I hadn’t gone there for an interview before their contact, because I had not known that there was an opening available.  I was so certain that I would start with the other job that I didn't really expect anything to result from this visit, but I hoped to develop a professional network for future opportunities.  After the day’s meetings however, I had the feeling that I was… the chosen!
An obvious benefit when working at Mount Vernon would be the short commute.  I would not have to struggle with the congested traffic… 25 miles each way…that would face me each day at the workplace where I had tentatively accepted employment.  Instead, I would be able to drive easily along the scenic Mount Vernon Parkway in relatively light traffic for only a few minutes.  In short, acceptance of the MVLA offer would provide some special lifestyle benefits; however, it might also mean acceptance of fewer employment benefits, since nonprofit organizations (compared to private companies) are sometimes restricted by their limited resources.  In the past 15 years, I'd worked only for government contractors.  I had not thought of going to non-profit organizations, nor to federal agencies.  
The company I had been planning to join next week was also a private company.  They had agreed to continue my 7 weeks of PTO, in spite of the fact that I did not have any seniority with them; and they had also promised to share with me a 15% to 22% bonus each year.  My decision to join their firm was based in large part on the fact that they had offered the most generous salary and benefits agreement.  Now, if I chose to join the MVLA, I had to find explanations to support withdrawal of my acceptance of their employment offer.  Not an easy thing to do under normal circumstances... but even harder when they had just asked what kind of laptop and smart-phone I wanted.  They had even shown me my new business cards, just received from the printing company...
I looked for advice: I truly admired the people at Mount Vernon.  I decided to look closely at the traditions of this historic place and learn from MVLA’s Father: how and what would George Washington do when he faced difficult circumstances?
George at Valley Forge
The battle for independence
In 1775, George Washington was approved and assigned by the Continental Congress as the commander of the entire US military, including reservists, cavalry and artillery throughout the country from north to south, from Maine down to South Georgia.  At the end of the year, Washington let his soldiers go back home for the Holidays.  Early 1776, because his soldiers weren't paid, most of them didn't return to their units.
Many times soldiers deserted, officers left the troops and even one of his key Generals switched sides and fought for the British (Benedict Arnold)… but Thomas Paine was on Washington's side; "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote.  The words struck the hearts and minds of his soldiers in the cold night before Christmas 1776 and led to publication of the great pamphlet, "The Crisis (1)."  
Between Christmas and New Year, Washington and his troops crossed the icy Delaware River three times, bringing the victory of Trenton and opening the next successful military campaign: the final battle for Yorktown in 1781.
George Washington respected loyalty and friendship.  For that reason, he maintained trusted friends, and their commitments helped him win the war.  On September 20, 1781, after meeting with Comte de Rochambeau and his closest friend, the Marquis De Lafayette, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, General Washington issued the General Orders.  On October 19, 1781, after a succession of attacks from the sea and from northern Virginia down along Hwy 17, the British imperial army was boxed into the Yorktown River area.  With Washington's intelligent strategic planning (and the on-time arrival of the promised French naval fleet), Colonial troops, local militia and the French fleet staged their attack at the Chesapeake Bay’s inlet … the British surrendered.
On October 20, 1781, Lord Cornwallis wrote to his superior, "I have the mortification to inform your Excellency that I have been forced to give up the posts of York and Gloucester, and to surrender the troops under my command." 
Although his army reeled from one misfortune to another, Washington had the courage, determination and mental agility to keep the American cause one step ahead of complete disintegration until he figured out how to win the unprecedented revolutionary struggle that he was leading.  He recognized the need to withdraw or even to lose certain battles; but at the end, he won the war because Lord Cornwallis surrendered and ended the British grip on the Americas.
Treaty of Paris in 1783
Peace talks began in April 1782 and continued throughout the summer.  Representing the United States were Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and John Adams.  On England’s side were David Hartley and Richard Oswald.  The Treaty was signed in Paris in the hotel d'York (presently 56 Rue Jacob) on September 3, 1783, signed by Adams, Franklin, Jay and Hartley (1).
The United States had won its independence.  On December 23, 1783, Washington officially resigned as Commander of American forces.  Like Cincinnatus, the hero of Classical antiquity whose conduct he most admired, Washington had the wisdom to give up power when he could have been crowned a king.  Washington went home to Mount Vernon with a firm intention of never again serving in public life. This one act, without precedent in modern history, made him an international hero. 
Last year, when I was volunteering for the VITA program (Certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance of the IRS), which provides free income tax return preparation assistance to qualified individuals in the community, I did the tax return for a young lady in the Alexandria area.  When I saw that she was working at the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association (MVLA), I was wondering why Ladies' Association?  Was it an organization owned by women at Mount Vernon?  Honestly, I was not very good in history.  At that time, I did not know Mount Vernon Ladies' Association had something to do with the estate of President George Washington, so I asked the young lady where Mount Vernon was and what kind of jobs they had over there. 
Fall Harvest Family
She told me that there were all kind of jobs, jobs for everybody and that she was working at the gift shop.  On Presidents' Day, she said, “Everyone can come to visit without tickets.  If you are off that day, please come by, and you will see me at the gift shop.  The souvenirs there will not be found anywhere else; they are unique to GWMV.  The restaurant at Mount Vernon also has very good menus.  You would feel very special when you eat vegetable that are grown right there in the President's gardens."  Oh, so that was the George Washington's Mount Vernon that I had always wanted to come visit!
I was asking myself… were the meeting and the conversations with that young lady a foretold sign that I would join this place?
In general, money is important.  20% bonus less, 2 weeks of vacation less and a few other things less… all adding up would be significant each year.  With that money, I could pay for a graduate program.  I wasn't sure if I had heard the summons of Thomas Paine or of General George Washington back in 1776, but I was convinced.  
I believe everything happens for a reason and this time, I even felt stronger.
Joining GW's force...
I "joined the army of General George Washington" (with fair pay) at the busiest time of the year.  People often think that working in government agencies or non-profit organizations will be more relaxing than working in a private company.  But from what I saw and experienced right at the beginning at George Washington's Mount Vernon, that wasn't so.  
I started my day at 8:30 am and did not leave the office before 7pm (sometimes 8pm).  And many times, when I left the office, the controller and CFO were still working.  I learned my new job and at the same time helped them with the budgeting work.
Annual council meetings take place every October.  Regents from around the U.S. will be reunited at Mount Vernon.  They will carefully review proposed budgets for each department.  These are the numbers and charts defining operational and spending plans for each department at MVLA, prepared from two or three months before.  
As shown by President George Washington, a good general doesn't need to win all battles, but needs to know how to sparingly save resources and preserve the strength needed for final victory.  In that spirit, the Regents are very strict in approving the budget for each department.  Having money does not mean spending unconsciously (or wasting resources).  When considering the budgets for approval, they will have lots of questions.  The head of each department will have an opportunity to explain the need for higher budgets.  Each will have to convince the Regents of the need for every aspect of their new plans, and to describe expected results and the anticipated benefits to the estate.
I was mentally prepared for the details and progress of these council meetings several months before they were to take place; but I still felt growing tension within our departments as the start date for the board meeting got closer.  We stayed late nearly every evening, trying to have everything done.  Some days, we didn't go home until 9 or 10 pm.  Most conversations began with, "The Regents are coming soon..." or "Make sure we get everything done nicely and properly..."  I became more curious.  I was asking myself how those Regents looked; who were they; what were their personalities; and how did they instill such deep respect within their employees, each of whom took their jobs so seriously?!  I also wanted to know why the residence of the first President of the United States became the responsibility of this Ladies' Association, rather than falling under the management and care of the White House.
The First President
Although Washington longed for a peaceful life at Mount Vernon, following the end of the Revolutionary War, the affairs of the new nation continued to occupy his attentions.  In 1787, Washington recognized once more the need to serve his country.  Watching development of current affairs, he was keenly aware of problems following independence of a young republic, which struggled under the “Articles of Confederation,” a structure of government that distributed power among the various colonies, or states.  The states were not unified and fought among themselves over boundaries and navigation rights.  They refused to contribute towards paying off the nation's war debt.  Washington realized what must be done to solve these complex problems and to stabilize the newly-independent states.
During the 1789 presidential election, George Washington received a vote from every elector to the Electoral College – he remains the only president in American history to have been elected by unanimous approval.   He took the oath of office at Federal Hall (26 Wall Street) in New York City, the capital of the United States at that time, and he quickly proved to be a talented administrator.  He surrounded himself with some of the most capable people in the country.  He appointed Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury and Finance, and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State.  He delegated authority wisely and regularly consulted with his cabinet; he listened closely to their recommendations before making decisions (2).
As the first President, Washington was astutely aware that his presidency would set a precedent for all that would follow.  He thus established an executive approach that always put the national interests above all others, and he exercised executive power with maximum restraint and almost absolute honesty.  In doing so, Washington set a standard for presidential integrity rarely met by his successors, while establishing an ideal by which all are judged.

The Gristmill and Distillery in 1799
Owning the biggest distillery and producing the best whiskey in the country at Mount Vernon, Washington nevertheless signed a bill in 1791 allowing Congress to establish a tax on distillers in order to support government operations and to repay the Nation’s war debts.  These taxes, however, aroused protests in rural areas of Pennsylvania and other western states, where farmers converted extra grain into whisky, which was easier to transport and to preserve.  In fact, whisky was often used as money in many rural areas.  Quickly, the protests turned into a comprehensive challenge to the federal government’s power, known as the Whiskey Rebellion.  Washington called for the establishment of a national armed force with the Militia Act of 1792, calling upon the local militias from several states to join together to put down the rebellion.  Washington personally took command, marching the troops into the areas of rebellion and demonstrating that the federal government would use force, when necessary, to enforce the law.
George Washington served two presidential terms (1789-1797), but he was the only U.S. President who did not occupy the White House, because it was not completed until after his death.  During his two terms as president, the U.S. Capital was located first in New York and then in Philadelphia.  However, George Washington played a major role in development of the new federal city that was named after him (Washington, District of Columbia), while overseeing design of both the Capitol Building and the White House.
In 1797, the Washingtons said farewell to public life and returned to their beloved Mount Vernon, to live out their remaining lives surrounded by relatives, friends and a constant stream of visitors, eager to pay their respects to the famous couple.  Unfortunately for Washington, his time at Mount Vernon did not last very long.  
On Thursday, December 12, 1799, George Washington was caught in a cold weather front while on horseback, supervising farming activities on his lands from late morning until three in the afternoon, when the weather turned from light snow, to hail and then to rain.  Upon arrival home, it was recommended that he change out of his wet riding clothes; but known for being punctual, he didn't want to make everyone wait and chose to remain in his wet clothes for dinner.  He developed a sore throat, which rapidly became increasingly worse; and George Washington passed away on December 14, 1799.  
After George Washington died, Martha burned all of their love letters to ensure the privacy of the two.  She died of severe fever on May 22, 1802.  Both are buried at Mount Vernon, where George himself had planned a modest tomb for them.
By the time of his death, George Washington had expanded the plantation from 2,000 to 8,000 acres at Mount Vernon, consisting of five farms, with more than 3,000 acres under cultivation.  In addition, he also owned more than 50,000 acres in parts of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and Ohio.  George Washington became one of the largest land holders in the United States at the time.  These significant acquisitions not only made Washington wealthy in terms of his land holdings, but also encouraged his strong interest in the westward expansion of the United States (3).

The Mansion before restoration
In 1850, John Augustine Washington III, brother of George Washington, became the owner of Mount Vernon.  Unable to maintain this huge estate, he offered it for sale in 1851.  After the Commonwealth of Virginia and the federal government turned him down, Washington III agreed to sell the Mansion with 200 acres of adjoining land to the Ladies' Association in 1858.
If the men of this country could not do…
The founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Associations was Ann Pamela Cunningham.  She was born in 1816 in Laurens County, South Carolina.  A dedicated horseback riding enthusiast in her youth, she was thrown from a horse as an adolescent.  That accident, which caused her chronic pain for the majority of her life, led to regular medical treatment by Dr. Hugh Hodge in Philadelphia, where she and her mother regularly traveled, returning to South Carolina by boat (4).
Witnessing the deteriorating state of the Mount Vernon properties as their boat steamed by on the Potomac River, Cunningham's mother shared with her daughter, "I was painfully distressed at the ruin and desolation of the home of Washington and the thought passed through my mind: Why was it that the women of his country did not try to keep it in repair, if the men could not do it? It does seem such a blot on our country!"

Regent Ann Pamela Cunningham
Cunningham was inspired by her mother's sentiments and took up the cause of purchasing and restoring Mount Vernon.  She founded the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association - an organization that was responsible for the conservation and restoration of Mount Vernon.  In doing so, she established one of the earliest preservation and heritage organizations in the United States, as well as the first women’s association.  She urged other women to join, each representative of a state; and together, they raised money for the cause of restoration and preservation.
By 1858, Cunningham (Vice Regent of the MVLA) had raised enough money to offer a down payment of $18,000 for George Washington’s home and surrounding grounds.  According to the purchase agreement, the Association had four years to pay off the remaining amount: $182,000, which became due February 22, 1862.  Upon delivering the down payment, Cunningham quickly busied herself with selecting additional Vice-Regents, raising funds and publishing The Mount Vernon Record, a newspaper that chronicled efforts of the Association and printed the names of every monetary contributor.  There were 13 Regents, representing the 13 states, when they held their first board meeting.
Cunningham was the head of the organization from its founding in 1853 until she stepped down in 1874.  With her health in serious decline, Cunningham resigned her leadership, but strongly encouraged her compatriots: "Ladies, the Home of Washington is in your charge; see to it that you keep it the Home of Washington. Let no irreverent hand change it; no vandal hands desecrate it with the fingers of progress!"  Cunningham returned to her home in South Carolina, where she died in 1875.
Since 1853, the MVLA has taken great pride in its independent standing: "No Government Dollars!"  The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has never taken any money/funds from the US government, nor taxes from its people.  MVLA continuously raises necessary funds by itself and with great success.  For an organization that is 160 years old to always work well, completely independent and self-financing, requires the dedication and skill of competent staff and caring volunteers, all sharing a love and respect for the beloved First President, and most importantly, possessing the wisdom and operational sophistication needed to preserve, restore and manage the estate of George Washington to the highest standards.
2013: Opening of the library…
President George Washington excelled in mathematics and learned the rudiments of surveying.  George's father died when he was only eleven years old, leaving most property to George's older half-brothers.  Being the oldest in a family of six children, George helped his mother manage the Rappahannock River plantation where they lived.  George did not go to college, nor to England to finish his schooling, as was the case with his elder half-brothers (and with the children of other wealthy planters).  Instead he learned the importance of hard work and efficiency.  He also enjoyed reading and research.  In 1787, when writing to his friend, James McHenry, George shared a desire to build a library to house all of his accumulated books and papers.  According to the letter, the number of books was described as "voluminous" and potentially "interesting" to future generations.  His sudden death in 1799, however, left George's dream of building the library unfulfilled.  But more than two hundred years later, his dream has at last become a reality.  
In 2010, the MVLA announced the creation of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the study of George Washington to further the mission of the organization: to advance appreciation and understanding of George Washington.  The announcement immediately resulted in a remarkable gift of $38 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the largest donation in the history of the MVLA since 1853.  The Campaign for the Library – with Vice Regent for Florida, Gay Hart Gaines, as chair – set an ambitious goal: to raise $100 million to build the library.  The campaign exceeded its goal by raising the $106.4 million in June 2013, all provided by private donors (5).  

The Fred W. Smith National Library
Construction work began in April 2011, and on September 27, 2013, nearly 1,200 supporters, scholars and representatives of the government and community gathered together on the grounds of the new library for a stirring and inspiring grand opening ceremony, beginning a new era of research, scholarship and educational outreach for Mount Vernon.
As Regent Ann Bookout explained when she addressed guests attending that morning opening, "This library enables us to reach out across the country and around the world to educate millions about this indispensable man. His example is more important in today's world than ever before, and this Library will keep his legacy alive (5)."
Among the more than one million visitors each year, from within and outside the country, there are nearly 400 thousand youths and more than 50 thousand guests who come to explore Mount Vernon's Hands-on-History Center.  George Washington's Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year; and among its numerous events and special ceremonies, my favorite event is the Purple Heart award.  The ceremony is solemn and deeply moving.  Occasionally, new Americans also take their oaths of citizenship at Mount Vernon, increasing the meaning of their new American citizenship.  With our new website (, we are confident that we will grow our website traffic to 7.5 million visitors annually.
Sometimes from my desk, I look into the hallway and see a tall man with white hair, dressed in 18th century clothes... he quickly passes by.  Was it General George Washington?  Another time, I saw his wife, Martha, in similar 18th century costume.  Here at Mount Vernon, we don't really call George Washington the “President,” but the “General.”  Calling him the "President" is totally right, but that sounds a bit too distant and formal for his humble and simple personality, even though he later became President.  Lady Martha is also very friendly and generous.  Seeing the actors who play General Washington, Mrs. Martha and the many farm workers living in Mount Vernon with them (shepherds, farmers, flautists... all regularly appear in costumes of the 18th century to greet and talk with today’s guests), I have the feeling that General Washington and his wife are still very much alive.  They seem always to be here at Mount Vernon, so lively and so real.  How could they not exist when most farm activities still operate so regularly?  Vegetables in the garden are still green.  Wheat is harvested yearly.   

Washington's Whiskey
Each year, MVLA contributes about 5 thousand pounds of produce to the local food banks. Whiskey in the formula and ingredients of George Washington’s day are still produced… about 500 gallons annually.  And of course, Mount Vernon is always paying taxes on its alcohol, as George Washington did by example in 1791. 
National Geographic Traveler magazine, June 6/7 2014 issue, records that Washington D.C. is one of the places that are worth visiting in the world.  And of course, George Washington's Mount Vernon can't be missed when visiting Washington DC. 
The road along the banks of the Potomac River from Langley to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon is 25 miles long.  In the memory of our first President, the road was named after him: the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  
Joining Mount Vernon home has meant that I learn new things every day, and the learning stream seems never to stop.  When the Regents of Mount Vernon put their hands together to rebuild one of the country's lasting treasures, they created an endeavor that Sir Walter Scott described in poetry:
"Unless to mortals it were given
To dip his brush in dyes of Heaven."
I was fortunate to have been able to sit in the most recent board meetings.  I can now better see why, in a huge country like this, that there have been only 30 women on the board of George Washington's Mount Vernon.  Rich is not how much we have, but how much we can give,” in the view of these Regents.  They instill in people (especially the women), love and admiration toward the first President of the United States, in particular, and the inheritance of the country, in general.  Thanks to the Regents for marking greatness in American history and in the history of mankind.
One of the many pleasant things that often happen during the workdays over here is that occasionally we will receive a notice: "One of our sheep lost her way home.  If you see her, please contact us to help her get back to her herd..."  No map of the property is readily available, so even I would get lost on this huge estate, making it easily understandable that the sheep might get lost if they don't carry a GPS!
Dean Norton (left), July 1969
The Director of Horticulture at Historic Mount Vernon has been working there for 45 years.  He came in 1969 as a sophomore in high school and never left.  I've not known anyone who has been working for only one workplace for 45 years.  I told Dean, "You must have been chosen by our General George Washington himself... because our General loved his gardens and his estate dearly.”  This past New Year, Dean told me, "Happy New Year… and I hope you will love this place and last 45 years as I have done." 
George Washington personally designed, then redesigned the gardens and grounds surrounding his home.  He reshaped walks, roads and lawns; cut vistas through the forest; and planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs himself.  He wouldn't let anyone else take care of his gardens and grounds; but when he was away from home during the Revolutionary War, his love of Mount Vernon is revealed by letters he wrote each week to Lund Washington, who was his overseer and whose home was at Hayfield, four miles northwest of Mount Vernon.  These letters (which continued when he was serving as President) reveal his character and his methods of doing business.
For example, he wrote: “You must be governed by circumstances and your own view of the case; with this caution, not to undertake in this, or in anything else, more than you can accomplish well, recollecting always, that a thing but half done is never done; and well done, is, in a manner done for ever."  He instructed his overseer "to correct the abuses which have crept into all parts of my business.  To arrange it properly, and to reduce things to system; will require, I am sensible, a good deal of time and your utmost exertions; of the last from the character you bear, I entertain no doubt; the other, I am willing to allow, because I had rather you should probe things to the bottom, whatever time it may require to do it, than to decide hastily upon the first view of them, as to establish good rules, and a regular system, is the life and the soul of every kind of business (6). 
Those recommendations guide our work even today.  On our finance team, there is a gentleman who is 83 years old.  He has been working here for the past 25 years, after retiring from his previous job.  Last summer, he underwent several surgeries and everyone thought he would retire for real this time; but after several weeks of sick leave, he returned to work, surprising everyone.  Don's mind is still very sharp.  He takes his job seriously.  The more I know Don, the more I admire his spirit.  I realized … if Don’s love of what he does “equals” one; then the love he holds for his team and this place equals ten, or even one hundred.   I then got an idea to recognize Don's example.  I made an "Employee of the Year" certificate and presented it to Don on behalf of the team, during our year-end staff meeting.  Don was surprised.  He had tears in his eyes when I mentioned his accomplishments and why I nominated him for this honor.  Don reminded me of my beloved grandfather: never stopping his work, never giving up - people would look at him with admiration.
Between Dean Norton and Don Bardell is Ms Susan.  She has been working at Mount Vernon for 38 years.  She often tells me special stories about Mount Vernon that touch my heart.  
The New Tomb
A good friend traveling from Vietnam, after visiting the first President’s estate, made the following comments: "A quite interesting visit, George Washington's Mount Vernon the residence of the first President of the U.S., located on an immense campus; you will need to have at least 3 hours to walk around, visit and take pictures... But what impressed me the most was the tomb.  One for him and one for his wife, simple and modest, the two graves were lying on a small hill, where Washington himself had planned an unpretentious tomb for them.  On the other side is the cemetery of those who served here, when he was alive.  A powerful country should have a great leader and a modest tomb... A nation that was founded not a full 300 years ago. That's all!"
As his will says, George Washington wanted to be buried at his home in Mount Vernon.  He even made provisions for a new brick tomb to be constructed after his death, which would replace the original (7).  In 1831, Washington’s body was transferred to the new tomb, along with the remains of Martha Washington and other family members.  Today, with many trees and tasteful landscaping surrounding the graves, the Washingtons' final resting place looks peaceful - the true sense of a place where people come to pay homage to the father of the nation.
Among the millions of guests who have come to visit Washington's grave, there are many celebrity names: General Marquis de Lafayette of France; President James Buchanan, joined by Albert, the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII); King George VI of Britain and his queen; French General Charles de Gaulle (8)... The list of famous visitors since 1824 doesn't seem to end.  Right after my first week coming to work at the Mount Vernon, I found my way to George Washington’s and his First Lady's graves to pray.
The people who are dedicated to Mount Vernon, from the founder of the MVLA organization to today’s staff, volunteers, donors and visitors... all provide important contributions (both spiritual and material) in the spirit of sustaining a great cause.  Their efforts will be both appreciated and continued forever.  With these thoughts in mind, I appreciate the opportunity of joining George Washington's estate and take my work seriously.  I'd like to thank the fates for leading me to George Washington's home.  I'd also like to thank the controller Will Choi and the CFO Phil Manno for the opportunity to join their finance team.

Anne Khanh-Van

All photos used in this presentation have been taken from the Mountain Vernon website (
A great thank you to Dr. Richard Forrester for proof-reading and editing.
(1)   Book:      “The Making of a Nation,” by Richard B. Morris and the Editors of “Life” magazine