“When combined with other gifts, this money will help ensure that the Miller Center’s core mission of studying the U.S. presidency is funded by an endowment so that the talented scholars and staff can continue to produce top-quality research without wondering how to fund the essentials.”
ormer presidents and those who worked with them have much to teach future generations about the presidency. Often, the most intriguing tales are the ones that never made the news. A major gift to the Miller Center will enhance ongoing efforts to capture those memories and bring their lessons to the public.
Miller Center Governing Council Chair Steve Burns, a managing partner at the investment firm Quad-C Management, along with his wife, Mary Anne, committed $1.5 million to create the Mary Anne and Steve Burns Presidential Studies Endowment to fund the center’s Presidential Studies Program.
“When combined with other gifts, this money will help ensure that the Miller Center’s core mission of studying the U.S. presidency is funded by an endowment so that the talented scholars and staff can continue to produce top-quality research without wondering how to fund the essentials,” Burns said.
Miller Center scholars conduct an average of 20 in-depth oral history interviews each year, devoting hundreds of hours of research, preparation, and interviewing time to capture the detailed recollections of the top 100 administration officials and world leaders who worked with each president since Jimmy Carter.
The center’s oral history experts have conducted interviews with presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; with vice presidents Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney; and with senior officials Madeleine Albright, David Axelrod, James Baker, Melody Barnes, William Barr, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Andy Card, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Gates, Mack McLarty, Leon Panetta, Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Robert Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Brent Scowcroft, John Sununu, Frances Townsend, and hundreds of others over the years. The interview sessions, often stretching across several days, capture for the permanent historical record a picture of a presidency, as seen by those who knew it best.
But it’s an expensive endeavor.
“An independent source of funding means that projects can begin soon after presidencies end, while recollections are fresh, without having to wait for presidential library foundations to be established and procure resources. Steve and Mary Anne appreciate how crucial this work is to preserving the American republic, and we are most grateful for their support.”
—Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies
“This generous gift will ensure that the Miller Center can continue to collect historical interviews with presidents and their administrations that preserve illuminating memories for all time,” said Director of Presidential Studies Barbara Perry, who is the co-director of the Oral History Program.
“An independent source of funding means that projects can begin soon after presidencies end, while recollections are fresh, without having to wait for presidential library foundations to be established and procure resources,” she said. “Steve and Mary Anne appreciate how crucial this work is to preserving the American republic, and we are most grateful for their support.”
The oral history interviews usually commence after a president’s last (or only) term and can go on for five years. Each project cannot start in earnest until most of the funding is procured.
“In our view, time is of the essence in the presidential oral history business,” Burns explained. The fundraising aspect, including getting the cooperation and financial support of the respective presidential library, can take quite a while and create a delay. In the meantime, memories of the key players start to fade, interest or urgency can wane, and key principals could die.
“An endowment will allow for proper scheduling and execution regardless of funding,” he added. “In other words, the Miller Center can spring into action on its timeline, not a third-party funder’s, and create a better product because of it.”
From the Miller Center Archives
“He [Reagan] stayed in the hospital about ten days. Other members came later, a very, very few. Howard Baker came. I think Mrs. Reagan made an exception with Tip [O’Neill] and probably Howard Baker—those are the only two I can remember when I was there.
So Tip came down, he did go in, and it was rather poignant. I stayed in the room. Mrs. Reagan, I think she slipped out. I don’t think she was in there. But Tip got down on his knees next to the bed and said a prayer for the president, and he held his hand and kissed him, and they said a prayer together. One about, what is it? Walking by still waters, the psalm [the 23rd Psalm]. The speaker stayed there quite a while. They never talked too much. I just heard him say the prayer, then I heard him say, ‘God bless you, Mr. President, we’re all praying for you.’ The speaker was crying. The president still, I think, was a little, he was obviously sedated, but I think he knew it was the speaker because he said, ‘I appreciate you coming down, Tip.’ He held his hand, sat there by the bed and held his hand.”
—Max Friedersdorf, assistant to the President for legislative affairs, on the March 30, 1981 assassination attempt, From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Oral History Project
“I’m always introduced as the first woman secretary of state, which I was. But I also, and I can’t believe I actually did this, shortly after the president named me as secretary of state, I said that I was the last secretary of state of the 20th century and the first of the 21st. Afterwards I thought how could I have been so presumptuous as to say that. I made it sound as if I knew he was going to keep me four years. Well he did, so I was… But that, for me, was the interesting part, that I’m the first woman. The century thing I found interesting, and mostly as a complete, slobbering sentimentalist about the United States. I am so very proud to be a part of American history and to have the opportunity to talk to you about this. Because I have really loved what I did, and I always love to talk about it.”
—Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Secretary of State, From the Bill Clinton Presidential Oral History Project