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Virginia was early love for birthplace's new leader
Fateful trip to Colonial Williamsburg started journey for new park superintendent

 This file photo shows a costumed interpreter greeting a horse at the birthplace site.
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Date published: 4/28/2009

By Rob Hedelt

LUCY LAWLISS didn't learn everything she needed to know in kindergarten.

The historical landscape architect's watershed moment came in the second grade, when her elementary school in Connecticut brought students to Williamsburg to learn about American history.

The look, feel and fabric of Colonial life in Virginia--from the classic brick buildings to the costumed artisans to the vibrant landscapes--convinced the youngster that she'd come back to Virginia for college.

Lawliss--now in her first year as superintendent of the George Washington Birthplace national park in Westmoreland County--was true to her second-grade decision.

Years after that youthful visit, she enrolled at Mary Washington College, studying art history.

She loved the school and campus, but a sister's enchantment with the deep South at the University of Tennessee drew her further south, as well.

Lawliss ended up at the University of Georgia, where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in landscape architecture and historic preservation.

She went on to become the first historical landscape architect in the National Park Service's Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta.

She transferred to Washington in 2001 to help manage the national cultural landscape program.

Lawliss, who lives in Fredericksburg, comes to this new position from a group of four parks in the San Francisco East Bay area--Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, John Muir National Historic Site, Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site and Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument.

The job here involves running the 550-acre site where George Washington was born in 1732, and the Thomas Stone National Historical Site in Maryland, which commemorates the life of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Lawliss said her background in historic landscape architecture serves her well coming into this assignment.

"In the past in the National Park Service, the buildings got all the attention and everything flowed from that," she said.

With input from folks like her, the park service has broadened its focus, realizing the importance of understanding how all parts of historic and culturally important sites were used.

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