Bill Long: An Extraordinary Maymont Friend and Mansion Volunteer

 

Maymont’s longtime friend and mansion volunteer William (“Bill”) Forrest Long passed away on Saturday, June 9, 2018. He was just two weeks shy of his 100th birthday, which mansion volunteers and staff were looking forward to celebrating with him at our annual picnic.

Bill was born on June 22, 1918 in Richmond and attended the old John Marshall High School. After graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and often quoted the words of the draft examination doctor who looked him over and pronounced him to be “slight, but good material.” He served on a cruiser in the Pacific and declared that World War II was the making of him. After the war, Bill entered Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU) as an art student specializing in sculpture. He went on to receive a M.A. from the University of Virginia.

Bill remembered visiting Maymont as a child with his mother soon after it opened to the public in 1926. He began volunteering as a mansion docent in the summer of 1979 after retiring from his position with Richmond Public Schools. Bill demonstrated that he was not only an engaging and articulate tour guide, but that he was also willing and able to put in a full day of “back to back” half hour tours from noon to 5pm! He had enormous dedication, enthusiasm, stamina, and a great sense of fun and mischief. Bill loved to dance and often offered impromptu lessons to staff and other volunteers between tours. We soon understood why his nickname had always been “Wild Bill.”

He routinely received fan mail from guests and was often mentioned by name in post-tour visitor surveys. In 2017, on “Google My Business,” Bill received a five-star review from a tourist named Dan, who wrote: “Best experience ever! It was pouring rain but my experience with the most awesome tour guide at the mansion was amazing. He is 100 (slight exaggeration), and he gave the most awesome tour and information ever. You will have the best tour ever with him.” During his 39 years with Maymont, Bill directly engaged at least 120,000 individuals on tours and at special events. He received the volunteer of the year award many times, and in October 2017 he received the award for Longstanding Dedication. His last day giving tours was May 2, 2018.

In addition to tours, Bill also enjoyed volunteering as a living history interpreter. Through his vocabulary, attire, understanding of Victorian courtesies, formality, and deportment, he presented with ease an especially convincing impression of a 19th century gentleman, and often portrayed the butler preparing the dining room for a gala dinner. He will long be remembered by thousands who have toured the mansion during our Victorian Holiday events. Having a pretty Victorian lady on his arm during events never failed to inspire his performance. Living history at Maymont led to Bill’s involvement in similar activities – as an extra in movies shot on location in Richmond, as a Civil War civilian re-enactor playing the role of John Letcher, Virginia’s war-time governor, and for several years, participating in the St. John’s Church re-enactment of Patrick Henry’s speech.

Bill performed two very special services that rank high in the annals of volunteer contributions at Maymont. In 1982, when the mansion’s unique front door knocker was stolen, Bill went into action to help with its reproduction. Based on two rather poor photographs, the outline left on the door, and his memory, Bill created a model of the original, then worked closely with a local foundry to do the casting in bronze, applied the patina, and installed the reproduction. Bill also helped Maymont acquire James Dooley’s Tiffany & Co. pocket watch. The owner wanted to sell it and gave Maymont advance notice before putting it up for auction. In the nick of time, Bill stepped forward and very generously offered to help rescue this important artifact for the mansion collection. These two items serve as tangible symbols of Bill’s dedication and service to Maymont.

For 39 years, our dear friend was steadfast in his love of the mansion and Maymont’s history and has passed his enthusiasm on to thousands of individuals – guests, staff and volunteers. Bill Long truly became a Maymont legend in his own time. He will be sorely missed.

Dale Wheary
Curator/Director, Historical Collections & Programs

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch feature article about Bill Long.

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