Grounded in History

Grace Gary ’76 finds challenge—and a home—at Nemours Mansion

Grace GaryIt took Grace Gary ’76 about 35 years, but she has finally managed to cross “write for Antiques Magazine” off of her bucket list.

The magazine’s October issue included an article written by Gary, who said one of the reasons she went to graduate school was to write for that magazine one day. “But then I got swept into a career of grassroots preservation,” she added.

As the executive director of Nemours Mansion & Gardens in Delaware, Gary recently oversaw a $44 million renovation of the home and grounds, which were built by Alfred I. duPont. Her article for Antiques was a short version of Nemours, a book co-authored by Gary and released in November. The book is filled with large, beautiful photos and focuses on some of the more unusual parts of the restoration.

After graduating from the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture with a graduate degree in architectural history, Gary worked for the National Trust and then Preservation Pennsylvania before taking her current position. The mansion is maintained by the Nemours Foundation, which was created after duPont’s death. The foundation also provides significant funding for children’s health care.

“There was a clean slate, and they were open to ideas,” Gary said. “People who go to visit a house museum often only think about the pretty things or how rich the owners were. We are trying to push the needle a little further.

“One of the things our Visitor’s Center does really well is put the life of the duPonts into the context of their time. The time between when Alfred DuPont was born in 1864 until his wife, Jessie Ball duPont, died in 1970, was an amazing period of history. We went from whale oil lamps to the computer, from the Civil War to the Vietnam War,” she said. “Their world laid the foundation for ours.”

After packing what some would do in an entire career into just five years, Gary is already looking forward to what comes next. She plans to help the Nemours Foundation add educational and entertainment spaces to several duPont-supported children’s hospital facilities in Delaware and Florida. Meanwhile, Gary lives on the grounds of Nemours with her brother, who has Down Syndrome.

“We go out in the evening and ride around the grounds, and I take pictures,” she said. “It is an absolutely beautiful place to be.”

After spending much of her career moving from place to place, Gary has been surprised at the roots she has developed at Nemours.

“The biggest surprise for me is that I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she said. “I never expected to be in this place, physically or metaphorically. But it is amazing here, and I love what I do. There is nowhere else I want to be.”