In another economic sign of the times, officials of a Mount Airy foundation have decided to slash activities at the historic Gertrude Smith and Dr. Robert Smith houses as well as the position of Executive Director Ann Vaughn.
“The Gilmer-Smith (Foundation) board has decided that we’re not going to do any more programming,” Tom Fawcett, that group’s vice chairman, said Tuesday. The expenses involved were the “bottom line” regarding that move, Fawcett said, explaining that the foundation operates under a trust fund which has become strained and now will be limited to maintaining the two properties.
Eliminating the full-time job of Vaughn, who worked for the foundation for 17 years, was a natural progression of the cost-cutting decision regarding programming, he added.
“Because of that, there became no need for an executive director.” Fawcett said the measures taken are no reflection on the work of Vaughn, who has been the face of activities at the Gertrude Smith and Robert Smith houses spanning three decades which have included concerts, holiday events and exhibits.
“Ann did nothing wrong — it was basically nothing but economics.”
“There was absolutely no firing — I’ve heard that we did that,” Fawcett said of rumors that have circulated around town regarding Vaughn’s departure. “But it’s pretty much the same bottom line,” the foundation’s vice chairman acknowledged. “We eliminated the position that is in charge of the programs, and that eliminates (her job).”
He added, “It wasn’t about Ann,” and called the decision “painful.”
The changes by the four-member governing board of the foundation went into effect this month and were approved unanimously.
Fawcett termed the move “heart-wrenching” on the part of the members. “It was not something we took lightly.”
Both historic houses that are managed by the foundation have been supported by a trust fund established in 1981 with the death of Gertrude Smith. She was an interior designer in New York City who returned to Mount Airy and lived in her family’s homeplace, the large Victorian-style house bearing her name on North Main Street.
The house is filled with period furnishings and artwork collected by Smith, who also was a staunch preservationist. Gilmer was the maiden name of Smith’s mother.
Meanwhile, the Dr. Robert Smith House occupying another site on North Main Street nearby served as the medical office of Gertrude Smith’s brother. In more recent years it was home to the Mount Airy Visitors Center until November 2005, before that facility was moved. Behind the house is a park that has hosted an annual summer music series.
However, it has become financially prohibitive to sponsor those events as well as other programming at the two houses, Fawcett said Tuesday, explaining that just the cost of maintaining those properties has become enormous. The Gilmer-Smith Foundation’s revenues are limited to the trust fund, the total of which he declined to specify along with Vaughn’s salary.
“The board is approaching its 30th year of operation of the foundation and decided that a change in direction of its presence in the community was necessary — that’s it,” said David Beal, the chairman of the board.
Given the tight economic situation facing many entities nowadays, “I’m sure non-profit foundations all over the place are having to deal with the same thing,” Beal added Tuesday.
The only activity for the two historic properties will involve the opening of the Gertrude Smith House to visitors beginning in April, although Beal said no schedule had been established for that.
Meanwhile, the trust fund will be used solely to maintain the two houses and provide a scholarship.
This will include funding three positions that are a mixture of full- and part-time jobs to handle such tasks as groundskeeping and housekeeping.
The outgoing executive director of the Gilmer-Smith Foundation was philosophical about the loss of her position on Tuesday.
“You can say as I’m packing up 17 years of memories, as I’m doing right now, I’m just reflecting on all the good times and the accomplishments that have been made in those 17 years,” Vaughn said. “I’ve enjoyed the ride.”
She is proud of the organization’s role in helping Mount Airy become a top tourist destination in Northwest North Carolina.
“I think that the foundation has made its mark (on tourism) in Mount Airy with the offer of a visitors center for 11 years,” Vaughn continued. “Those were grand years and I saw our tourism numbers increase exponentially.”
Vaughn indicated that her departure from the organization she’s been heart and soul of for so long is difficult. “The friends that I’ve made over these 17 years are supporting me right now and I do believe that there will be better days ahead and I’m keeping a positive attitude about that.”
Though she is not originally from Mount Airy, “I have grown to love this town and I wish to see this town succeed,” Vaughn said. She hopes to land some other position that conforms to her dual interests of tourism and historic preservation.
“You haven’t seen the last of me,” Vaughn vowed Tuesday.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.