Saturday, January 21, 2012

What is Freedom of Information Day? Who was James Madison? Why was Christie D. Vernon involved?

Christie D. Vernon-Past President of VLA, Scottie Cochrane-Past President of VLA, Liz Hamilton-then President of the Virginia Library Association-1990

Christie D. Vernon became a champion of Freedom of Information (FOI) Day celebrations in the 1980s, when she and I had both been presidents of the Virginia Library Association (VLA). Christie hatched the idea of partnering with the staff of Montpelier to present a VLA FOI proclamation at Madison's grave on his birthday. This blog tells the story of the first such occasion on March 16, 1990. 

What is Freedom of Information Day?
From the American Library Association web site:
Freedom of Information Day - March 16, 2012
Freedom of Information (FOI) Day is an annual event on or near March 16, the birthday of James Madison, who is widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution and as the foremost advocate for openness in government. Each year, the James Madison Award and the Eileen Cooke State & Local Madison Award are presented by the American Library Association Washington (DC) Office on Freedom of Information Day to recognize those individuals or groups that have championed, protected, and promoted public access to government information and the public's right to know
Who was James Madison and where did he live?

A short biography of James Madison, fourth president of the U.S., is found on the official White House web site.
Madison's biography from

His estate in Virginia's piedmont "horse country" with gorgeous rolling pastures is called Montpelier. It is in Orange County northeast of Charlottesville. Montpelier has been restored over the past 20 years to its full glory today (2012). Owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it was in rather rough shape when Christie Vernon, Bill Kitchin, Louis Middleman, and I visited in 1990. We were there representing the Virginia Library Association to celebrate Freedom of Information Day and honor President Madison.

Montpelier plantation web site

What was March 16, 1990 like for Christie and Scottie?

Christie, Scottie, Louis, and Bill in front of Montpelier, then under renovation (see ladder to the left)

It was an early spring day, just two months before Louis and I were to be married on May 19, 1990, in Abingdon, VA at the Martha Washington Inn.

Christie & her beloved husband, Bill Kitchin, left Yorktown early that morning to drive several hours west up I-64, then US15, to Montpelier Station and Madison's estate. She had prepared the proclamation and had it printed by her ever-reliable print shop in Grafton, VA.

Louis and I drove about 3 hours south on US 29 from the DC area, where he had been working on  contract to the US Dept. of Energy. I did the driving because Louis had been up all night working on a contract deadline, and he needed to take a nap. I was on spring break that week from my studies at Virginia Tech for a PhD in public administration, so I had spent the week with Louis while he worked in DC. We both lived in Blacksburg, VA at the time. B'burg is in far SW Virginia, rather off the face of the earth as far as I was concerned, so for me to spend the week with Louis in DC was a great treat.

The four of us, Christie, Bill, Louis, and I were great traveling companions, because we liked the same kinds of things - ideas, food, drink, & interesting people and places. As I've told you, little Christie, Big Christie was the most curious person I ever met. Add that to her intelligence, and it was a winning combination. All of us were very happy that spring, because Louis and I had found each other three years before and were about to be married.

As it turned out, in 2002, Christie died on our 12th anniversary, May 19. We miss her still, but are thrilled to have Christie V. Vernon to share her stories with.

FOI Day Ceremony

Christie's type-written description of this photo

The ceremony at James Madison's grave at Montpelier began around 11 a.m. under somewhat cloudy skies and pleasantly warm temperatures. At the direction of the current President of the U.S., George H.W. Bush, the Marines arrived in full dress uniform (looking gorgeous, of course) to lay a wreath at President Madison's grave on his birthday. Apparently, they do this at the graves of all U.S. Presidents on their birthdays.

Our presentation and reading of the framed VLA FOI Day citation honoring President Madison for his contributions to intellectual freedom was part of the wreath-laying ceremony. Because I was chair of the VLA Awards Committee in 1990, I was called upon to read the citation and present it to the Director of Montpelier, Christopher Scott (a distinguished Brit).

Marines laying the wreath from President George H.W. Bush

Christie, Scottie reading citation, Liz Hamilton-then President of VLA

Marine color guard leaving the cemetery

Scottie at the reception inside the mansion after the ceremony - note Marine hats on the mantle and walls needing repair

After the reception, the four of us had lunch at a nearby inn, then Christie and Bill went on their way back to Tidewater, and Louis and I headed southwest to Blacksburg.

Another grand adventure manufactured by Dr. Christie Dougherty Furlow Vernon Kitchin. I was privileged to ride sidekick to many such adventures. Thank heavens!