Most often it is George C. Marshall’s leadership on the battlefield and in the post-World War II rebuilding of Europe that is celebrated at his legacy. This week, George C. Marshall International Center in Leesburg is putting the spotlight on another aspect of his public service.
It was 70 years ago that Marshall served as president of the American Red Cross.
After the war, Marshall and his wife, Katherine Tupper Marshall, settled into retirement at their Leesburg home, Dodona Manor, and agreed that he would undertake no further public tasks without her approval, according to a booklet written by the center’s Director of Docents Tom Bowers, “A tonic to my spirit.”
When asked by President Truman to assume the Red Cross presidency, at age 69, Marshall said, “the Red Cross presented me the most satisfying opportunity,” particularly after his duties and responsibilities during the war. His wife, who had been a Red Cross volunteer, agreed, predicting it would provide “very satisfying labor.”
Truman himself described the Red Cross as “the greatest voluntary agency of our time. To millions of Americans, it is a living symbol of what men and women of good will can accomplish in working for a better world.”
On his first day on the job, on Oct. 3, 1949, according to Bowers’ booklet, Marshall received a hero’s welcome from staff lined up to greet him. Setting a fast pace, he traveled 35,000 miles visiting Red Cross centers on a fact-finding mission. He was particularly impressed by its blood collection program.
Tom Greenspon, executive director of the Marshall International Center, said that although Marshall was his late 60s when he took the new post, he poured himself into the job with his usual vigor and efficiency. He work focused on helping to restore morale, controlling costs, and bringing more efficiency to the organization.
“He met people and regained his sense of mission, finding it very rewarding,” Greenspon said.
In his farewell speech to staff at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC, at the end of his term Dec 4, 1950, Marshall called the association “a tonic to my spirit.”
He said he had learned “that there are great reserves of simple goodness and altruism in human beings that, when catalyzed by an agent like the Red Cross create good will, friendliness and helpfulness.”
Bowers said the opportunity to highlight Marshall’s service to the Red Cross also helps put a spotlight on the work of that 138-year-old organization as visitors tour his Leesburg home.
“His story is deep and complex, multi-faceted. We should all take pride in him,” Bowers said.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Marshall’s presidency of the Red Cross, the Marshall International Center is hosting a special reception Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Lightfoot Restaurant. To check on ticket availability, go to georgecmarshall.org or call 703-777-1301.