Lee and Cindy Williams
By Michelle Gillett
When Lee Williams joined Country Curtains in Stockbridge in 1989 as President, CEO and Director, he offered marketing help to the Corner House as they developed Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue into a "membership builder and money maker." The Museum asked him to become a trustee in 1990, and Lee became chair of the Marketing Committee. He served as President of the board from 2002 to 2006.
Lee grew up outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a "kind of Norman Rockwell environment" with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins close by. His wife Cindy moved from Syracuse, NY to New Jersey when she was in fifth grade because of her father's career change from mechanical engineer to Presbyterian minister. Cindy and Lee met at Syracuse University where she was studying nursing and he was pursuing a graduate degree in urban planning at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs after his undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester. They married right after college and raised three children, Amy, Matt and Jeanne. Lee became CEO of Country Curtains, but retired in 2006. He and Cindy now spend seven months in Venice, Florida and five months at their cottage on Canandaigua Lake, in the Finger Lakes of New York State.
Lee's parents and grandparents subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post, so he was familiar with Rockwell's images, but his affinity for Rockwell deepened with his involvement in the Museum. "I have said many times that much of the attraction for me is that Rockwell is so simple and so complex at the same time. Both the medium and the message dimensions of Rockwell fascinate me." The values that Rockwell's work depicts and "that define us as uniquely American: tolerance, patience, generosity, humor, patriotism," are ones Lee believes should be shared with the nation on many levels, through the Museum's collection, its traveling exhibitions, its publications, and on the Internet.
The values Rockwell's work expresses are part of the reason Lee and Cindy decided to make a provision for the Museum in their estate plans. Lee says, "as conservators, stewards and trustees, we are obliged to find ways to insure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy and learn from Rockwell..." Lee's years of involvement with the Museum gave him a clear understanding of the financial stress cultural institutions like the Museum can experience during economic downturns and changes in visitor traffic. This understanding has prompted him to find a personal way to preserve "this cultural treasure."
The Williams have responded to the need to build the Museum's endowment with a three-year campaign pledge and a legacy gift. Lee and Cindy have created a Living Trust in which they specify their last charitable gifts to be granted after their deaths if the ending estate value exceeds a specified amount. One of their named charities is "Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, or its successor in interest."
As Lee says, Rockwell's "artistry ranks with the best the world has seen, while his visual messages are so accessible. His art is masterful. Some of it is fun and funny, some challengingly serious. It starts conversations between parents and children; it's educational; it's inspirational; and in so many ways it defines the soul of our country."
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