By Lisa O. Monroe
Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, Hubert Humphrey, John Wayne, Walter Cronkite, Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II of England and the Queen Mother.
The collage of large black-and-white photos forming a mural in the hallway of Mary Humelsine’s Williamsburg home depicts a who’s who of the 20th century.
She met all of these famous people and many more when her husband Carlisle Humelsine served as executive vice president and president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
The late Mr. Humelsine served as the foundation’s president from 1958-77. He joined the foundation in 1953 as an executive vice president and he also served as chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg Board of Trustees through 1985.
“We had a lot of people who came here and stayed before they went to the White House,” says Mrs. Humelsine, now 96. “It was a place they could come and relax before they went to Washington, D.C.”
Sometimes the visits of prominent guests were widely publicized, she explains. Other times very few people knew they were here and some of those guests liked it that way.
John Wayne, for example, was literally next door. The Humelsines lived in the Moody House in the Historic Area at the time – 1978 — and they didn’t even know Wayne was there until they recognized him. “We saw him out in the yard and asked him over for a drink,” she said, which he accepted.
The late Shah of Iran also wanted very little publicity, she remembers, preferring to come in the back door of the Humelsines’ home during a 1973 visit.
William “Bill” Codus, longtime Chief of Protocol for the U.S. State Department was one of the reasons so many dignitaries visiting the White House also stopped at Colonial Williamsburg Mrs. Humelsine says. Her husband met Codus while serving as a deputy undersecretary of state after World War II.
She said Codus liked the quiet nature and beauty of the colonial capital, in addition to its security.
“Sometimes we’d have a dinner party (for dignitaries) if the State Department wanted us to,” she says. Sometimes there was no dinner party, but Mrs. Humelsine says she greeted the famous visitors in most cases.
The majority of visiting dignitaries stayed at what was called the Allen-Byrd House and the dinner parties were usually held at Colonial Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace.
The Humelsines’ daughters Mary and Barbara were literally raised in the restoration area, although Mrs. Humelsine says she made an effort to shelter them from the excitement surrounding guests.
She recalls a time in 1953 when her children especially wanted to meet Queen Frederika of Greece, but Mrs. Humelsine wouldn’t allow it. So the girls sat on a bench between the dining room and lounge of the Williamsburg Inn hoping to get a glimpse of the queen as her procession passed.
“The ambassador stopped the procession and said the queen had to meet them,” says Mrs. Humelsine. A photo of the queen bending down to put one arm around each girl preserves that precious moment on the mural.
And there were funny stories, as well – like an incident that occurred when the Humelsines lived in a house in the Historic Area right on Duke of Gloucester Street.
One morning, her husband returned to the upstairs bedroom after getting a newspaper. But he had forgotten to lock the door.
The next thing she and her husband knew, there was a family standing in their bedroom staring at them. The apologetic visitors didn’t realize they had wandered into a private home – they thought the building was open to visitors. Mrs. Humelsine says everybody had a good laugh in the end.
“We were right in the middle of everything, but that didn’t bother me in the least,” she says. The Humelsines lived in four separate houses in the Historic Area during her husband’s Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tenure, and in that particular house she said the living room faced the street. That room wasn’t used all that often, she says, because the family had a den in the back of the house, so always made it a point to keep the living room blinds open so that people could take a peek.
Carlisle Humelsine was the first president to live on-site year-round and he was already accustomed to entertaining guests. He handled many of those duties when he was vice president because the president at that time lived in New York City.
His efforts were appreciated by Lady Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a British statesman and naval officer. Her neatly typed note of thanks to Humelsine after her visit in 1955 included praise for the restoration.
“I know what tremendous research and thought has gone into the whole project and I was particularly struck by the wonderful knowledge, taste as well as restraint shown; three things which do not always go together,” she wrote.
Mrs. Humelsine says since leaving restored area, she’s enjoyed traveling all over the world saying she’s “really a gypsy at heart.” She also plays bridge and is a member of the Raleigh Tavern Donor Society, which supports the foundation.
A die-hard Washington Redskins fan since 1939, she holds season tickets and never misses a game if she can help it. She says she’s seen the Redskins play at three different home stadiums.
Unofficially, the restored area still holds a big place in Mary’s heart and many of her fondest memories.
Early Days Before Colonial Williamsburg
A native of Luray, Va., Mary Humelsine met her husband while she was a college student at the University of Maryland studying home economics.
She taught home economics and coached girls’ sports for six years at a high school in Mount Rainier, Md., during which time the Humelsines married. She then gave up teaching to concentrate on being a wife and mother.
During World War II, her husband served in the U.S. Army reaching the rank of full colonel, and earning the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. After the war, he worked at the State Department prior to moving his family to Williamsburg in 1953.