40 Years Ago This Week: Marshall Statue Dedication was Large Community Celebration

By Tom Bowers

The chill of a Saturday morning in early December 1980 did not dampen the enthusiasm of some 3,000 people who lined King Street in Leesburg for a parade and ceremony to honor the most famous person who had ever lived in Leesburg. The procession ended in front of the courthouse, where citizens and world leaders dedicated a statue to George Catlett Marshall. The week-long celebration was probably the biggest event in Leesburg’s history.

Marshall had been Army chief of staff and adviser to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman during World War II and later was special envoy to China, secretary of state, president of the American Red Cross and secretary of defense. His efforts as secretary of state led to the European Recovery Program, which was more widely known as the Marshall Plan. Marshall won the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in making the Marshall Plan a reality.

In 1941, Marshall and his second wife, Katherine, purchased Dodona Manor, a stately home at 217 Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. They lived there until his death in 1959, a few months short of his 79th birthday. Marshall participated in local organizations and was well-known and admired by Leesburg residents for his humbleness.

The approaching centennial of Marshall’s birth in 1980 united a group of citizens who wanted to honor Marshall. Some suggested that a street be named for Marshall, but the majority thought that a statue on the courthouse lawn would be the most appropriate memorial, and the George C. Marshall Memorial Committee was formed in 1977. It was headed by Benjamin Lawrence, a Loudoun County businessman affiliated with the Federal Aviation Administration, who had headed the county’s Bicentennial observance in 1976. The committee also included B. Powell Harrison, a Leesburg businessman; Vinton Liddell Pickens, a local artist; Huntington Harris, a Leesburg resident; and Thomas Kamstra, a local architect. Leslie Cheek, former director of the Virginia Museum of Fine arts, was art adviser to the committee.

A week of celebration

Events preceding the dedication had begun on Oct. 23, when an exhibit of Marshall memorabilia opened at the Loudoun Museum and Visitors Center. The items had been loaned by the George C. Marshall Research Foundation at Virginia Military Institute, Marshall’s alma mater.

The week-long celebration leading to the statue dedication began on Sunday, Nov. 30, when area churches reflected on Marshall’s character in their services. Virginia Governor John Dalton had already proclaimed Dec. 6 as “George C. Marshall Day 1980” in Virginia.

Tuesday, Dec. 2, was George C. Marshall Day in Lovettsville. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Riddlemoser hosted a reception, and Fred Hadsel, former U.S. ambassador to Somalia and Ghana and director of the George C. Marshall Research Foundation in Lexington, spoke at a ceremony at the Community Center.

The Loudoun County chapter of the Virginia Museum hosted a reception for Rosario Fiore, the sculptor, at Vinton Liddell Pickens’ Janelia Farm in Ashburn on Wednesday, Dec. 3. Fiore was a native of New York who was living on Jekyll Island, GA. The 100-plus guests included members of the committee and members of the Loudoun chapter of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Pickens amused guests by saying that while George Washington had never slept in her house—built in the 1930s—George Marshall had swum in her swimming pool.

W. Averell Harriman, a diplomat who had worked with Marshall during World War II and in the State Department, was the speaker when the Leesburg Rotary Club honored Marshall at the Laurel Brigade Inn on Thursday, Dec. 4. The 89-year-old Harriman, who owned property in Loudoun County, complimented the memorial committee and Leesburg for honoring Marshall and said he knew that Marshall had loved Leesburg.

Harriman recalled a visit that he had made to see Marshall in Leesburg on July 1, 1950, conveying a request from President Truman for Marshall to become secretary of defense. “I’m ready if my country needs me,” Marshall had said that day. His wife Katherine witnessed that conversation between Harriman and Marshall. “There were tears in her eyes,” Harriman recalled, “because she had hoped they would be here [Dodona] together.”

A concert at Loudoun County High School on Friday, Dec. 5, featured a “rousing” performance by the Marine Corps Presidential Band that began with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and featured several patriotic songs.

Barbara Huddleston Abney-Hastings, 13th Countess of Loudoun from Scotland, was honored at a reception at Morven Park following the concert. She had been in Loudoun for 10 days in 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial, when locals “fell in love with her.” Lady Loudoun, as she was known locally, “warmly greeted those who approached her” and said that she accepted the invitation to the dedication weekend because she believed in the cause. “We in Europe owe so much to the Marshall Plan that I was very pleased to come here,” she said, “because General Marshall was such a great man, such a great general.”

Parade and ceremony

Planners had anticipated a crowd of between 10,000 and 15,000 people, but a local newspaper reported the crowd as 3,000. Ronald Reagan, who had been elected president only a month earlier, had been invited but had not responded, and President Jimmy Carter had declined an invitation.

Some 700 Virginia Military Institute cadets began forming for the parade at 9:30 in the parking lot of the Virginia Village shopping center at the intersection of Catoctin Circle and South King Street. Other color guard units were from the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Great Britain. Children lined both sides of King Street and waved tiny American flags.

Many spectators became absorbed in the moment and got in line behind the last VMI unit as the parade moved north on King Street to Cornwall Street. One woman ran to the center of the street, waved her flag, and shouted, “I’m gettin’ in this parade,” and several other spectators joined her at the end of the parade. Boys on a stone wall were impressed by Army jeeps in the parade and by the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, which got the loudest applause. As the last VMI company filed past spectators, a squadron of jet fighter planes streaked overhead.

Several spectators conveyed their impressions to a reporter. Eric Zimmerman of Round Hill and a Leesburg attorney, said, “I think this is neat. I’m never going to see this again, so why not?” Ron Masters, a Purcellville councilman, said, “It’s nice to have a parade that’s not all firetrucks.” One spectator asked the reporter, “General who?” but that was a rare sentiment.

Joe Trocino from Leesburg opined that “It’s good for America to remember its soldiers. It’s a time when people are beginning to realize what this country means in the world, and that we’ve got freedoms no other country has. Ten years ago, you would have seen half the crowd and there probably would have been protesters.” His wife Sherry added, “We need people we can be proud of today, so this is something the town can be proud of and our children will be proud to remember.”

As the parade ended, spectators gathered at the shrouded statue north of the old courthouse. On the dais were Harriman; Lawrence; the Reverend John M. Smith of St. James Episcopal Church; Charles Robb, lieutenant governor of Virginia; Carl Hendrickson, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors; Stephen Price, a Leesburg attorney who worked with the committee and gave the welcoming address; and Molly Winn, Marshall’s stepdaughter. Also present were ambassadors from NATO countries, especially the British ambassador.

Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. of Virginia introduced the speaker, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who spoke for 15 minutes. Rusk had served under Marshall in the State Department and was secretary of state under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1969.

Following Rusk’s speech, Molly Winn unveiled the statue, which was near the current location of the Law Library and backed by granite blocks inscribed with the words “George Catlett Marshall – Soldier, Statesman, Citizen, Friend.” The cost of the project (statue and stonework) was $96,000 (approximately $300,000 in 2020 dollars), and the committee had still been $26,000 short of that goal by Nov. 20. Huntington Harris was treasurer of the committee and was in charge of raising money. He was president of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago and may have made a large personal contribution himself.

The statue shows Marshall standing in front of a rail fence, wearing a sweater and tie and holding a book. Vinton Pickens said that Fiore’s design was chosen because it “best represented the scholarly, world-renowned and humble man of the community.” At the reception in his honor, Fiore had said that he hoped the statue showed “the presence of the general, standing there, and also the presence of an understanding and compassionate man, and a local citizen, for instance the way he’s dressed.” That was how people wanted to remember Marshall, Fiore added.

The original display of the George C. Marshall statue in the courthouse square near the former county government administrative offices. The statue was moved during the courthouse expansion in 1999.

Reactions to the statue

Although the statue’s depiction of Marshall received generally favorable reviews, some residents complained. Army Sgt. William Heffner, who had been Marshall’s orderly for nearly two decades, including his time in Leesburg, was especially critical. “General Marshall never walked around Leesburg in a sweater with a book in his hand,” Heffner said in 1995. “If he was downtown or on the golf course, he wore a hat and coat.”

The statue’s size remains somewhat of a mystery. Marshall was approximately six feet tall, and Fiore had said that he wanted to depict Marshall as people remembered him in Leesburg. The statue, however, shows Marshall as being seven and one-half feet tall. In addition, the statue’s head is disproportionately large and drew at least one complaint.

At the public input session, Robert Lyon complained that the statue’s head seemed out of proportion to the body and said he hoped that that issue would receive some consideration. A month later, Lyon complained that “the Marshall bronze does the general an awful disservice. It’s grotesque! Let’s bite the bullet and do what’s needed. Redo the statue below the head to put the head and body at the same scale or redo the head or redo all.”

The statue’s unusual appearance was also noted by other citizens. Lawrence said that a few people had complained that they found the statue to be “scary” at night. A local resident confirmed that she could recall driving on King Street at night and being startled by the statue.

Lawrence said that members of the memorial committee had visited Fiore in his New York City studio to examine the completed statue before it was shipped to Leesburg. They questioned the height of the statue and its oversized head, but Fiore told them that he had used mathematical calculations to determine the size of the statue and the head – based on Marshall’s measurements. Lawrence said that committee members felt that it was too late to make any changes in the statue. The oversized head may have resulted from faulty calculations or incorrect information about Marshall’s stature.

It’s common for sculptors to sculpt statues that are larger than life if the statues are intended to be placed on pedestals. Making the statue larger than life will make it appear more normal when viewed from the ground. In fact, Lisa Speet, president of the Preservation Society of Loudoun County, seemed assured that that was Fiore’s motivation when she suggested that the statue be moved to Dodona Manor and placed on a pedestal. “If that is done,” she said, “the statue could at last be placed on a pedestal, which would allow it to be seen as the sculptor intended it to be. Viewed at ground level, the statue is clearly out of proportion.” The statue was not placed on a pedestal, probably because of cost.

The commemoration continued with a memorial service on Sunday, Dec. 7, at St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, where the Marshalls had worshiped. The Rev. John M. Smith of St. James described Marshall as a humble man who helped others to search themselves and to seek out God for strength and perseverance and compared him to John the Baptist. Smith said that Marshall’s belief in God helped him overcome early setbacks in his life. James Winn Jr., Marshall’s step-grandson, read the Epistle, which drew on Isaiah’s hope that the Messiah could come. In closing, Smith said that Marshall and John the Baptist “led others to a spiritual relationship with God, the source of all hope.”

A new home for the memorial

The Marshall statue and nine granite blocks remained on the courthouse square for almost 20 years but were moved to a Loudoun County storage facility in 1999 because of the construction of a new courts building north of the old courthouse. Lawrence remembered finding the statue lying on the ground at the storage facility and demanded that it be set upright.

Judge Thomas Horne, chief judge of the Loudoun County Circuit Court at the time, had responsibility for the courthouse grounds and helped the Courthouse Grounds Committee plan the new courts facilities. The committee had developed a master architectural and landscape plan for the courthouse grounds, Horne said, and the Marshall memorial did not fit into that plan, but “the Marshall House seemed to be a perfect place for the statue.” Placing the statue at Dodona Manor in 1980 had not been an option, however, because Marshall’s stepdaughter, Molly Winn, and her husband, Colonel James Winn, still lived in the house and it was not open to the public.

The extensive additions and changes to the courts complex led to considerable public discussion about the appearance of the courthouse grounds, including the issue of whether the Marshall memorial should be moved back to its original location. At a public input meeting of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Loudoun County Courts in June 2000, Lyon complained that the several memorials and monuments on the courthouse grounds gave the area the appearance of a graveyard.

A decision about the Marshall memorial was still up in the air six months later. The minutes of a meeting of the Courthouse Grounds Facility Taskforce on Feb. 4, 2001, said that the task force was “seeking guidance on the placement of a statue honoring George Marshall, longtime Leesburg resident at nearby Dodona Manor.”

James Winn died in 1990, and Molly sold the house in 1995 to the George C. Marshall Home Preservation Fund, and the George C. Marshall International Center opened Dodona Manor as a house museum in November 1995.

Loudoun County, which retains ownership of the statue, loaned it to the George C Marshall International Center in 2007 and paid to have it moved to Dodona Manor on East Market Street across from Mom’s Apple Pie. It was rededicated there on Veterans Day in 2007. The granite blocks remained at the county facility until 2017, when they were placed at the rear of the Marshall House property.


Tom Bowers is the director of docents at the George C. Marshall International Center.

2 thoughts on “40 Years Ago This Week: Marshall Statue Dedication was Large Community Celebration

  • 2020-12-05 at 2:11 pm
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    A fine and accurate piece. I was at the military parade and dedication. The absolute coolest part was the flight of four F-105 Thunderchiefs, affectionately known as “Thuds.” One of my all time favorite aircraft, it was the only time I’ve ever seen them fly. I recall they made two passes over downtown. I could feel the vibrations of those huge Pratt J-75 engines through your body as the Thuds rocked Leesburg hard.

    I’ll never forget it.

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