No doubt one of Culpeper’s gems is the Museum of Culpeper History. It is celebrating its 40-year anniversary this year.
I’m a big fan of new beginnings and when I heard that its director, Lee Langston-Harrison, was leaving I was saddened to hear that news but also jubilant at her new path.
Last Thursday I stopped by the Museum to see her and say “good-bye.”
I found her tucked in one corner, on her computer, on the phone, answering multiple questions from staff and, after a brief breathe, she put on a big smile and we gave each other a warm hug.
I’ve always liked and admired Lee. I’ve known her eight of her 10 years serving as the Museum’s director. I can recall countless events held at the Museum where new exhibits were being introduced, a fundraiser was in process or the quiet times when she’d let me peruse through the Museum’s photo archives. Soon into her career at the Museum, she was affectionately called “Hurricane Lee,” a nickname she’s proud of. “I’ve worked my butt off,” she laughed as she shared one of her visions for the Museum that it move from Main Street to its current location inside The Depot on Commerce Street. She was instrumental in that move, in working with members of town council to make it happen. She was absolutely convinced that it would serve the Museum and the community in better ways. And it has by adding much needed space for exhibits and increasing visitors both inside and outside the county.
I’m also a big fan of serendipity and it was a visit to her sister and brother-in-law last Fourth of July that found Lee sitting on a deck in Reedville, eating crabs and musing about her next path. “My sister asked me what it would take for me to retire and move to Reedville,” a quaint and working fishing village in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Lee, who could see the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, from where they were sitting answered, “If something were to open in that museum, I might consider moving here.”
A few months later, Lee learned that they were looking for a new executive director. She applied but admitted that she hadn’t thought that much about it until she learned in October that they wanted to interview her. From there it moved quickly, “like a whirlwind” and by December she learned that she had been selected.
She is so funny. “Friends have asked me what I know about fishing…about as much as I knew about the Civil War when I started here,” she said adding that she’s always been a lifelong lover of history, research and information gathering.
“I will learn,” she said confidently.
There’s no question in my mind that she will do just that.
She paused a moment in our conversation.
“I’m very fulfilled…I’ve accomplished what I set out to do here…to create one of the best small town museums…I do plan to retire in Reedville and when I put in my years there I’ll have had 50 years in this business…that’s a long time.”
“This has been my life,” she told me, “I’m doing this for me.”
Giving up her home in Orange County is bittersweet. There are many memories for her in that place. She’s moving out of her comfort zone in Culpeper, leaving behind colleagues and friends but after a decade of service, she’s ready for a change and to take on a new challenge.
That kind of energy and enthusiasm is inspiring. What a way to start the year.
As she looked around for the last time at her surroundings, the paintings on the wall, a box of donated tea cups in one corner, piles of books in another, she stressed to me how important her team has been over the years. “I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without the support of the staff and the board and members of town council…they are amazing, absolutely amazing.”
“Together, we have done great things.”
“You get on Route 3 and stay on it for about three hours and you’ll hit Reedville,” she told me with a smile.
I took notes. Paths with a good heart are easy to follow.
What’s new at the Museum?
The Museum of Culpeper History will reopen on Saturday, Feb. 4 with new exhibits for 2017. Among them an exhibit on World War I and the Women of Winston and Winston an Early Planned Community.The Museum is located at 113 S. Commerce Street in The Depot. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Phone: 540-829-1749
Look for 40 special events throughout the year to celebrate the Museum’s 40th anniversary. It opened in 1977. Gloria Cooper is serving as interim director until a permanent director is selected.