ORANGE, Va. (WRIC) — Dr. Elizabeth Chew, former Chief Curator at the historic home of founding father James Madison, will return to lead the site two months after she and two other senior staffers were fired amid a row over who should lead Montpelier.
Chew was fired on April 18, alongside Director of Archaeology Dr. Matthew Reeves and Director of Communications Christy Moriarty, in the highest profile casualty of a fight over the Montpelier Foundation’s promise to grant equal representation to the descendants of enslaved people.
The Foundation made good on that promise earlier this month — but the move only came after months of conflict between the foundation’s former leadership and the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC), the organization officially designated to represent the descendants of those enslaved at Montpelier and other plantations in Central Virginia.
Last week, Board Member Gene Hickok stepped down as the board’s chair. Hickok lead efforts to keep the MDC from naming half of the board’s members, a plan the board committed to in 2020.
Now, those MDC-nominated members have taken their place on the board — and the board named the MDC’s leader, James French, as their new chair, alongside a slate of officers drawn both from the MDC candidates and older board members.
One of the new board’s first acts has been to accept the resignation of former Foundation CEO and President Roy F. Young, an ally of Gene Hickok. The board elected to offer Chew the position of interim president and CEO, putting her at the head of an institution that unceremoniously fired her by email just two months ago.
“Elizabeth has the full confidence of Montpelier’s dedicated staff,” French said. “Her willingness to take the helm during this critical period will do much to help us turn the page to Montpelier’s next and best chapter.”
In a statement, the board said they hoped the changes would help “restore the reputation and strengthen the finances” of Montpelier.
Chew welcomed the appointment, and said she envisioned a site that would “embrace history’s complexity,” calling on “all who share in this vision to support it, by returning with me to Montpelier, as visitors, donors, partners and champions.”