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One of Colonial Williamsburg’s most enthusiastic fans and generous benefactors has died.
Forrest E. Mars Jr., who joined the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2010, died Tuesday in Seattle. He was 84.
Leaders at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation mourned the loss of a champion and colleague in a statement to the press, saying Mars’ “leadership, vision and generosity transformed the world’s largest living history museum and sustains its interpretation of America’s founding era and ideals for future generations.”
Mars’ affection for Colonial Williamsburg began during visits to the restored 18th-century city, the statement said. His visits inspired more than $33 million in funding of various Colonial Williamsburg projects and initiatives, including rebuilding the Market House in honor of his wife Jacomien Mars, construction of the Armoury, where the tin trade is demonstrated and R. Charlton’s Coffee House. The coffeehouse, built in 2009 on its original foundation next to the Capitol building at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street, was the eatery where burgesses and councilmen once met to talk politics. Mars’ $5 million donation to that project resulted in the first new reconstruction in Colonial Williamsburg in 50 years.
His most recent gift of $10 million was made in May and honors Colonial Williamsburg chairman emeritus and former president and CEO Colin Campbell and his wife Nancy by creating a new Archaeological Collections Building in their name.
“These gifts and others at Colonial Williamsburg represent a remarkable legacy which has been transformative at this place for which he had such deep affection,” said Colin Campbell.
Mars’ influence on the living history museum was profound and connected to the past.
“If John D. Rockefeller Jr. is the father of Colonial Williamsburg for his visionary generosity in restoring Virginia’s colonial capitol, and the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin its spiritual godfather for kindling the idea, Forrest was their progeny,” said Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman of Colonial Williamsburg’s Board of Trustees. “His tireless dedication and big-heartedness towards preserving and sharing the structures, lifestyles and ideas of America’s founding era leave an indelible mark on our nation and the world.”
Mars joined the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2010 and was a lifetime member of the Foundation’s Raleigh Tavern and Goodwin donor societies. He is a recipient of the Foundation’s highest award for public service, leadership, and stewardship, the Churchill Bell, which he received in November 2013.
“Forrest Mars is surely among a rarified pantheon of great Americans who have made Colonial Williamsburg a national treasure,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg. “In so doing, he is himself part of that treasure. He has helped us keep the light of history and the call of patriotism alive in America.”