Stephanie Meeks, the eighth president and first woman chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, announced this week that she will step down at the end of 2018, after more than eight years in office.
Jay Clemens, vice chair of the organization’s board of trustees, has been named to lead a nationwide search for Meeks’ successor, which will begin right away. Clemens will be joined by a search committee made up of four board members, working with Howe-Lewis, an executive search firm based in New York.
Founded in 1949, the National Trust is a privately funded, nonprofit organization that works to preserve and celebrate America’s historic places. Meeks began as CEO in July of 2010 and leaves at a time when preservation-oriented builders, planners, architects, and public officials are constantly threatened by lack of funds and the loss of local tax credits to encourage preservation. Many local governments have far more preservation projects seeking funds than they can afford to support.
In response, the Trust recently completed the largest fundraising campaign in its history, drawing $305 million to support its mission. Meeks also led an effort to reposition the Trust’s holdings of 27 historic sites and add a new one, Thornton Gardens in southern California. The organization’s annual list of Most Endangered Historic Places continues to draw attention to landmarks and districts that face an uncertain future.
“With integrity and vision, Stephanie has guided this organization and its essential and important work to higher ground,” said Trust chairman Timothy P. Whalen, in a statement. “Places that matter to all Americans in this country are more secure as a result of her determined and skillful leadership…Each of us on the board are grateful for and admire all that Stephanie has accomplished for preservation in the United States.”
Meeks “brought a fresh perspective to a valued, legacy organization, seeking to revitalize the National Trust for a new century,” said Robert Ivy, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Architects.
Besides overseeing the fundraising campaign, Meeks completed a five-year strategic plan for the organization, moved its headquarters to the Watergate complex in Washington, D. C., established a program called National Treasures to support preservation efforts, sought ways to assist America’s cities through its ReUrbanism initiative, and launched an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. With Kevin Murphy, she co-authored a 2016 book published by Island Press, entitled The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities.
Accouncement for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, launched by the Trust under Stephanie Meeks’s leadership (Courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation)
Meeks could not be reached for comment in time for this article, but she noted in a message on the Trust’s website that she believed the completion of the fundraising campaign was an appropriate time to bring in new leadership. She noted that the campaign exceeded its goal by $105 million, including four gifts of $10 million or more and 26 greater than $1 million.
“It is against this backdrop of success that I have decided now is the right time to pass the baton to the next leader of the National Trust,” she wrote. “The end of a campaign is a natural inflection point for any organization, and I believe that the best time for a transition is now so that my successor can take the reins at this moment of strength and build toward an even stronger future.”
In a separate message, she thanked the many partners who have helped the Trust realize its goals.
“It has been a privilege to lead an incredible organization of talented and committed individuals dedicated to preserving and honoring the places that tell our full American story,” she said. “As I reflect on the results we have achieved together, I am deeply moved and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to an organization whose important work will continue to shape the cultural landscape of our nation.”
Meeks’ announcement set off speculation within preservation circles about who might take her place. In one government preservation office, there was talk that President Donald Trump’s daughter, Tiffany Trump, may be in line to take Meeks’ place. Others noted that the organization is not a federal agency and the President does not have the authority to appoint its top executive.