Letter from the President
September 11, 2001
By Charles F. Bryan, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer
We as a people have suffered a terrible national tragedy. Some of us have been touched personally. All
of us are appalled by the events of September 11. For those of us who are old enough to remember, there is the
same sense of stunned disbelief, numbing sadness, and uncertainty that followed the assassination of John F.
Kennedy or the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like then, this is a very difficult time for all Americans.
This is also a time when we who value and preserve the history of our country hold a very special place and
purpose. In good times and bad, our historical societies and museums are havens for learning and understanding
the lessons of the past. They provide a sense of time, place, and stability. They are a place for dialogue, debate,
and the exchange of ideas. They are temples of civil discourse. They protect the collective memory of our people
and remind us that together we are strong. They remind us that there is comfort in the past.
As historian David McCullough observes: "History is an aid to navigation in perilous times."
Indeed, it is instructive to remember that our predecessors went through tough times and how strong they had to be.
None of us has an ancestor who did not at some time go through some form of hell. Winston Churchill in his great
speech in the darkest hours of World War II, when he crossed the Atlantic to meet with Franklin Roosevelt, reminded
Americans: "We haven't journeyed this far because we are made of sugar candy."
Let us remember that America has survived and thrived despite any number of major setbacks. History
teaches us that we will survive the current crisis. As one of the stewards of our country's past, the Virginia Historical
Society stands ready to serve as an aid to navigation in a perilous time. And as such, it is one of the bedrocks of our
Let us go forward, but let us remember those who have been lost in this national tragedy and the families who grieve.
Posted October 2001
• Letter archive
• Charles F. Bryan, Jr. biography