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Mount Vernon's Rees to retire as director

Wednesday - 2/15/2012, 4:41pm  ET

MOUNT VERNON, Va. - The president and CEO of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate is retiring after an 18-year tenure in which he led a significant overhaul to the visitor experience at the popular tourist attraction, the estate announced Wednesday.

James Rees, 59, will retire effective June 1 due to unspecified health issues, according to a news release.

Rees has worked at Mount Vernon for 29 years, and became its president in 1994. He oversaw significant changes, including the 2006 opening of a $60 million museum and education center on the estate grounds, and restoration of the first president's distillery and gristmill. Work is under way on a $47 million center that will serve as Washington's presidential library. Unlike modern presidential libraries, though, the Mount Vernon library will accept no government funding. The estate has long prided itself on being entirely privately funded.

Rees worked to promote Washington's memory and portray him as a vibrant leader to combat the staid image on the dollar bill. The education center, for instance, took great pains to create carefully researched, life-size wax figures that show Washington as a young surveyor and military man.

During Rees' 29-year tenure, the staff has nearly doubled in size, and Mount Vernon's endowment has grown from $4 million to $125 million.

The estate draws roughly 1 million visitors a year.

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which owns and operates the estate, is planning a national search for a new president.

"No one has done more for George Washington's legacy than Jim Rees," said Mount Vernon's Regent, Ann Bookout. "His dedication and drive echo the qualities of George Washington's leadership."


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)