By Preston Knight -
NEW MARKET -- If Scott Harris could be cloned, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation would endorse such cutting-edge technology.
"That'd be great," said Beth Stern, the organization's policy and communications director. "There aren't enough superlatives [for him]."
In Harris, the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park's director, the foundation has a worthy partner who recognizes the importance of the battlefield, can tell its story in a compelling way and attract tourists to visit, she said. That made Thursday a bittersweet day for Stern, as Harris announced he is leaving New Market after 10 years to become director of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, beginning July 1.
"He's been really great at listening to partners and knowing that partnership is a two-way street," she said. "He's an example of the kind of leader that is important to have."
Harris' last day will be June 30, although he will continue living in Broadway until his daughter graduates from high school next year, he wrote in an email to friends and colleagues Thursday.
The Fredericksburg museum is owned by the state and administered by the University of Mary Washington, his alma mater, something that makes the job opportunity "especially meaningful," he said.
"He's kind of going back home, so to speak," said Troy Marshall, New Market's supervisor of historical interpretation.
Harris grew up in Augusta County and, during an interview when he was hired as director in 2001, said his interest in history started with the local Civil War attractions in the valley.
He recalled his parents taking him to Virginia Military Institute's Hall of Valor Museum when it opened in New Market 40 years ago.
Before coming to the local battlefield, Harris worked for 12 years in the Manassas Museum System, first as the curator of the downtown Manassas Museum and later as director of the regional system. Marshall, who was hired just a month before Harris, said that the Manassas experience was helpful for New Market, and he credits the director for increasing the battlefield's programs for school groups and opening a tourist information center there after one closed nearby.
In the email, Harris said his new job includes working with the university in anticipation of the bicentennial of Monroe's presidency, which begins in 2016, and he will often have contact with students pursuing degrees in history and historic preservation.
"During my ten years at New Market, I have been fortunate to work with a talented and dedicated team of Park staff and volunteers, as well as many colleagues at VMI and affiliated institutions," he wrote. "I am grateful for their service, their good will, and the many fond memories of our association that I will treasure always."