New transportation museum director sought

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2011

N.C. Transportation Museum
SPENCER ó The N.C. Transportation Museum could have a new executive director in place by February, the state said in a press release.
Elizabeth Smith, the current executive director, begins her retirement Thursday after 31 years working for the state, 21 of them at the Transportation Museum. Sheís been executive director there since 1998.
Keith Hardison, director with the State Division of Historic Sites, said in the press release the process of finding her successor ěis moving along well.î The state has conducted a nationwide search and is considering several candidates.
In the meantime, Brian Howell, the museumís chief of facilties, will serve as interim director.
ěMy plan is to continue cultivating the museumís partnerships and to make the transition for the next director as smooth as possible,î Howell said in the press release.
Smith had planned to retire earlier this year, but she decided to stay longer after the General Assembly voted to transition the museum to a self-sustaining facility. The museum began raising its own operating funds July 1 through admissions, events and other sources.
ěShe volunteered to delay her retirement date so that she could direct the transition effort to ensure its success, which I thought was wonderful and we welcomed that,î Hardison said.
Hardison said the new funding system for the museum has changed the job requirements somewhat for the next executive director. While the search is for a veteran museum administrator, ěWeíre also looking for someone who has a strong business sense and who knows how to sell a museum and its projects and programs to the public and to potential donors,î he said.
Interviews are under way now, with members of the State Historic Sites, the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation and museum staff taking part, the press release said.
More time
Smithís retirement ends her tenure with a museum that grown from a single exhibit building with a small gift shop to four massive exhibit buildings spread over the 57 acre site.
Smith has little intention of slowing down, however.
ěMy future will include more time with my grandchildren, Laura and Danny; time with my favorite charity, the Salvation Army; time for my church, Calvary Lutheran; and other volunteer opportunities that I have not had time for in the past,î she said.
As a teenager in her native New Bern, Smith worked as a tour guide at Tryon Palace. After graduating from Meredith College in Raleigh, she worked for two years at the State Capital and later at the Executive Mansion as a tour coordinator.
It was in 1990 that Smithís career brought her to Spencer. ěBeing the daughter of a Piedmont Airlines employee and rail fan, I think that my destiny must have been the N.C. Transportation Museum,î she said.
When Smith was hired as assistant site manager 21 years ago, the museum grounds were far more humble. The Master Mechanicís Office was the only exhibit building, while the Back Shop lay in disrepair. The on-site train ride took visitors to the Bob Julian Roundhouse, which at the time had only a dirt floor.
ěYou might find a snake or an owl in the building as you went through,î she said.
The Bumper to Bumper Exhibit, featuring automotive exhibits, opened soon after Smithís arrival. But the museum truly stretched its wings in 1996 with the addition of the Barber Junction Depot, a large parking area, and the complete restoration of the Bob Julian Roundhouse.
Smith became executive director June 1, 1998. Over the past 13 years, the Back Shop exterior has been renovated and the massive structure has been opened to the public for the first time. Smith is proud of helping to move the Piedmont Airlines DC-3 to the museum. The growth of events like ěDay Out With Thomasî and ěRail Daysî also occurred under her tenure.
But relationships have been the main focus for Smith. She and her staff have formed partnerships with the Piedmont Silver Eagles to honor the history of Piedmont Airlines, created the Education Advisory Board to work more closely with school teachers and added the N.C. Humanities Council Roads Scholars program to the list of offerings at the museum each year.
Some of the most important partners, she said, are the volunteers who team with staff to keep the museum moving each day.
ěThe volunteers and the staff are what have made us successful,î she said. ěWithout them, my job would not have been possible.î