This is how O. James Lighthizer,
former Anne Arundel County Executive, feels about his current
job: "It's like getting a bowl of ice cream and going to heaven."
Well, now. What sort of job might that be? Clues abound in the
Lighthizer living room: There's a portrait over there of Confederate
general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a bust of Abraham Lincoln on the
mantel, crossed sabers over the fireplace, then a painting of
Lincoln. Civil War items, certain evidence that Jim Lighthizer
has found heaven as president of the Civil War Preservation Trust.
The Trust is a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation
of America's Civil War battlefields. He got the job because of
his experience with land acquisition and the zoning minutia that
attend such endeavors. And, yes, his being a Civil War devotee
certainly helped with his getting the job.
How did this Civil War thing come about?
"I was raised in a family where everyone read a lot, and I always
had had a strong interest in American history. In 1983 we were
getting ready to go to the beach at Nags Head and a friend recommended
Killer Angels. I told him I didn't read historical novels.
He insisted, 'Read it.' I did, and the rest, as they say, is history."
Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, inspired the movie
Gettysburg. The book has the principals in that battle---Robert
E. Lee, James Longstreet, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, George
Pickett---talking about their battle, their war, their lives before
the killing started. Their words are fiction, but they are spoken
in places that are true, awfully true for the blood shed there:
Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, Seminary Ridge, Devil's Den.
Lighthizer immediately immersed himself in the subject. "I would
guess I've read 200 books on the war," he says. "I always, always
have a Civil War book going." He took his knowledge to Anne Arundel
Community College where he taught credit courses on the war for
12 years. Lighthizer had a serious resume at work before he came
on the Civil War. He was born 56 years ago in Ashtabula, Ohio,
and earned a political science degree at the University of Dayton
in 1968. He attended Georgetown Law from 1971 to 1975 while working
at IBM---"peddling typewriters," he says.
He practiced law in Glen Burnie and in Annapolis before serving
as a House delegate to the state legislature from his Crofton
district. He was elected county executive in 1982, serving eight
years. He cites the acquisition and development of Quiet Waters
Park as one of his proudest achievements in that office.
"I bought the land and personally supervised the design," he says.
"I worked on it more than I did on any other project as a public
In 1991 Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed him Maryland's
Secretary of Transportation. "We got along well together," Lighthizer
says of his work with the governor. "We were both politicians
and understood how it works. We were both results-oriented and
knew that the objective was to serve people. I knew how to get
things done, and Schaefer liked that."
As head of transportation he continued with his land-acquisition
projects, creating a program that saved more than 4,500 acres
of Civil War battlefield land in Maryland. He was also chair of
the Governor's Greenways Committee, resulting in thousands of
acres of land being set aside for that program.
Prior to this activity, he had five children---Jimmy, Patrice,
Conor, Meaghan, and Bobby, who is deceased. Wife Gloria is a conference
planner at Anne Arundel Community College. None shares his passion
for the Civil War.
"By 1983 the older three were teenagers and could have cared less,"
he says. The others have never come on board.
He has found two relatives who fought for the Union in the war---Wade
Fithin, a private shot in the hip at South Mountain in Virginia,
and George Lighthizer, another private who was captured, paroled
and eventually hospitalized in Philadelphia not for some glorious
combat wound but for syphilis.
Lighthizer's skills at land acquisition and preservation doubtless
led to his being nominated chair of the Civil War Trust's Battlefield
Preservation Committee in 1997. At that time he was practicing
at Miles and Stockbridge in Baltimore, one of the state's oldest
law firms. In 1999 the Trust merged with the Association for the
Preservation of Civil War Sites, creating the Civil War Preservation
"They asked me to be president," he says. "I didn't say yes. I
said, hell, yes. They were going to pay me to go places where
I already went on vacation."
The job demands that he go places constantly, to Chancellorsville
in Virginia, Corinth in Mississippi, and many other battle sites.
The Civil War was a massive undertaking, with some 10,000 battles
and skirmishes fought from Virginia to Colorado, from Florida
to Minnesota. "A 1993 Congressional study determined that 384
of these Civil War battles were highly significant influences
of the course of our nation's history," the Trust states in its
literature. "More than 70 of these battlefields have already been
lost forever and fewer than 15 percent have been protected. In
between lie vulnerable sites, places where American soldiers gave
their lives fighting for their visions of freedom, places that
are now threatened by bulldozers and backhoes."
Lighthizer is charged with raising money. Sources of money include
more than 42,000 members of the Trust, private donors, and state
and federal governments. Part of the job means he has to work
Capitol Hill---"the key to lobbying on the Hill is knowing the
right staff members of the right senators." His political background
aids him in this pursuit.
The other part of his job is his "passion for preserving land."
He says, "This is accomplished in large part by government action,
with such matters as zoning. I know how that works."
George Will acknowledged Lighthizer's efforts in a column this
past fall: "CWPT's president, James Lighthizer---a temperate,
grown-up realist---stresses that CWPT's members are 'not whacked-out
tree-huggers' who hate development and want to preserve 'every
piece of ground where Lee's horse pooped.' But regarding commemorations,
Americans today seem inclined to build where they ought not, and
not to build where they should, as at the site of the World Trade
The Trust has acquired some 15,000 acres of battlefields at 80-plus
sites in 18 states. The opportunity to secure more acreage is
closing fast, says Lighthizer. "The window will close over the
next 10 years," he says. "The land will be either saved or gone