It is with heavy hearts that we note the passing of longtime Colonial Williamsburg Foundation employee and veteran character interpreter, John Hamant.
Mr. Hamant, a Baltimore native, earned a bachelor’s degree in theater production and a master’s degree in acting and directing from the University of Arizona, but it was his love of archaeology that first drew him to Colonial Williamsburg. He began his career as an archaeological excavator in 1977, and later became a supervisor of excavations. During that time he worked with pioneering historical archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume, and participated in landmark discoveries like the 17th-century Wolstenholme Towne site and the Martin’s Hundred dig.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Hamant transitioned into historical interpretation. He became a character interpreter in 1982, and within two years began taking on new roles and responsibilities. Between 1984 and 2003, he worked in various capacities as the artistic director for the Company of Colonial Performers; director of Special Events and Protocol; director of programming for the Williamsburg Institute; manager of Special Projects for the Education Division; and manager of Evening and Special Programs. He was a fixture in Colonial Williamsburg’s dramatic evening programs, acting as a regular part-time performer even after his retirement in 2012.
“One of my greatest joys all these years has been the pleasure of working with so many talented and dedicated people toward a common goal,” Hamant said in 1997. “We may not always agree on how to get there, but we all do agree on what this place stands for and how we should be of service to it.”
“John Hamant was a great man who devoted a career spanning 40 years to Colonial Williamsburg’s mission, guests and community in work as a researcher, manager and interpreter,” said Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss. “A natural, gifted actor, he brought to life characters as varied as Benjamin Franklin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and our co-founder, Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin. With warmth and ease he made each of his characters real and accessible to various audiences. Over the decades his work out-of-costume was equally prolific, both in support of colleagues and in service to guests.
“Together John’s grace, good cheer, and joy in engaging and inspiring audiences embodies our mission and provide an ideal to which we all can aspire,” Reiss added. We extend our deep sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues in this time of shared loss.”
John’s dedication and contribution to the Foundation is immeasurable. Yet, perhaps the greatest tribute to his legacy is found in the words of those who worked alongside him:
“He was incredibly talented, irreverently hilarious, and capable of pulling the best possible work out of everyone around him.”
“John brought a light into this world that will not be extinguished. He was incredibly talented, irreverently hilarious, and capable of pulling the best possible work out of everyone around him. It was my honor to be directed by, and act alongside him in several shows. I last spoke to him a few weeks ago; we were performing in the evening program, “To Hang a Pirate.” As we walked away from the Capitol building he said, “Good job tonight.” Those three words may not seem like much, but from John they were high praise. He will be greatly missed, and I know that I am not alone when I say that I am a better actor, historian, and person for having known him.”
— Emily Doherty, Character Interpreter
“I couldn’t have begun to comprehend what it means to be Character Interpreter without him.”
“To attempt to memorialize John Hamant in a few sentences is simply impossible; the man defies description and commendation, because to know him is an indescribable pleasure. John was the first person that I met here, and the only person that I cannot imagine Colonial Williamsburg without. He challenged me to become who I am, and I could never have begun to comprehend what it means to be Character Interpreter without him.
“What made John exceptional is not just his skill as a performer, his discernment in crafting a piece, or the level of research he completed to truly bring someone into the world of the individuals he portrayed—it was his integrity. I have never seen someone so innately convey his ability not only to know himself, but also to understand the principles and honestly necessary to inspire it in other people.
“As the Rev. Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin (one of the many people John portrayed), famously said about Williamsburg in 1941, “If there is one firm guiding and restraining word which should be passed on to those who will be responsible for the restoration in the future, that one word is integrity.” John Hamant embodied that, he was that for me. This is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. John would expect nothing less, and if he were standing behind me right now I know he would laugh and tell me so.
“Thank you, John. I won’t forget it.”
— Nicole Brown, Character Interpreter
“Though he passed from us much too soon, his accomplishments add up to three lifetimes.”
“I met John 20 years ago when he hired me. He was remarkably gifted as an actor and historic interpreter, and was incredibly loyal and supportive to his employees when he served as Director of the Historic Area and Evening Programs. I worked personally with John on many programs, including a special holiday program we did at Carter’s Grove in which he portrayed Franklin D. Roosevelt—who actually came to Williamsburg and visited Carter’s Grove. John ‘owned’ that role. We had a guest one evening who was a young child when FDR came to Williamsburg. She engaged me in conversation after the program, and was quite visibly moved. She said that thanks to John’s remarkable portrayal, she felt like she had been in the presence of FDR once again. She added that she knew Mr. Hamant and had seen him in other roles, but for her, that evening he was FDR. Truly, she was in the presence of greatness.
“To say that John will be missed is an understatement. So much of what we call ‘great’ at Colonial Williamsburg was touched by his hand. Though he passed from us much too soon, his accomplishments add up to three lifetimes.”
— Michael Monaco, Harpsichordist (retired)
“He was always so enthusiastic, and seemed to have unending knowledge about Colonial Williamsburg.”
“John obviously loved what he did. He was always so enthusiastic, and seemed to have unending knowledge about Colonial Williamsburg. He would have people staying after his programs to speak with him every time he was here, because of this depth of information. We have lost someone who truly embodied Colonial Williamsburg ideals, and I hope as a community we can live up to that.”
— Cari Rillo, Senior A/V Technician
“The folks that he inspired will continue his legacy.”
“I think of John Hamant as ‘Mr. CW.’ My first holiday season in the Hennage Auditorium included daily showings of ‘Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg,’ where he narrated and portrayed the Royal Governor. He portrayed CW through many centuries, most recently in the Hennage as Dr. Goodwin. It was a real crowd pleaser, as he took the audience on a tour of the town through Goodwin’s eyes…seeing ghosts in the buildings. I’ll see John in many of them now as I think about the many roles he played on and off stage at Colonial Williamsburg. It’s sad to see him go, but the folks that he inspired will continue his legacy.”
— Mary Cottrill, Manager of Museum Operations
“His advice was invaluable and I will now always hear his voice, in my head, coaching me.”
“The first time I got the chance to meet John was during winter training two years ago. He was portraying John Greenhow, and explaining Colonial economy. He was the first person to explain it in a way I could understand. He was so engaging that people just couldn’t help but listen and learn.
“John would become, a year later, a mentor to me when I became a storyteller for ‘Ghosts Amongst Us.’ His advice was invaluable and I will now always hear his voice, in my head, coaching me. He will be sorely missed by one and all!”
— Heather Hanft, Historic Interpreter
We offer our deepest condolences to John Hamant’s family, especially his wife Brenda, and to his many friends. He was a good man, and he will be missed.