Jim Lighthizer Feted for Contributions to Preservation Movement
“For more than 20 years, I worked the greatest swindle of all time,” Jim Lighthizer told the crowd at the American Battlefield Trust’s 2022 Annual Conference. “My job was to study subjects I would have gladly learned about in my spare time. I got paid to visit the places where I would have vacationed anyway.”
Although retired since the fall of 2020, Lighthizer had taken the stage to be recognized for his two decades of leadership and to bid an official farewell to his beloved members. “Being your president was the great honor of my very full career,” he said.
In a tribute twice delayed as events were postponed and shifted throughout the pandemic, Trust President David Duncan presented his friend, mentor and predecessor with the organization’s Edwin C. Bearss Lifetime Achievement Award. Even as he praised past recipients, pausing to remember the two who have passed away in recent months, Duncan noted that Lighthizer’s impact was the furthest reaching of all.
“If you seek his monument,” Duncan said, paraphrasing the famous epitaph, “look around. Go to Antietam, to Bentonville, to any one of the 150 battlefields where we have saved land — that impact would simply not have been possible without Jim Lighthizer.”
Born in Ashtabula, Ohio, Lighthizer came late to the field of history. A graduate of Dayton University and Georgetown University Law Center, he was already a successful politician — moving from the Maryland House of Delegates to Anne Arundel County executive — when a friend suggested some beach reading for the family’s 1983 summer vacation. Lighthizer protested that he didn’t read “historical novels,” but the friend insisted. “I read it,” Lighthizer is fond of saying, “and the rest, as they say, is history.”
The book: Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, a riveting retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Now thoroughly hooked on Civil War history, Lighthizer began consuming vast quantities on the subject. As Maryland secretary of transportation, he pioneered the use of Transportation Enhancement Grants to protect historic landscapes and battlefields. He was invited to join the Board of the original Civil War Trust and served on the merger committee as it joined forces with the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS).
On December 1, 1999, as one of the conditions of the merger vote, Lighthizer became president of the new Civil War Preservation Trust, collaborating with a chair of the Board who had come from the APCWS ranks. The new organization had redundancies and inefficiencies to contend with, as well as $7 million of debt.
Determined and dynamic, Lighthizer immediately began charting a course to the future. His goal was for the organization to become the best in the world in its field — heritage land preservation. It was a vision that transformed the battlefield preservation movement, expanding into a more holistic vision rather than concentrating on a single site or conflict. His belief in the power of calculated risk allowed the group to undertake massive initiatives and grow into its promise as the American Battlefield Trust.
Although now retired from day-to-day operations, LIghthizer remains active on the Board with a lifetime appointment as president emeritus. In addition to spending time on battlefields as a civilian, Lighthizer and his wife Gloria are spending time with their grandchildren and enjoying their 1780s home, Rehoboth, on the water of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.