"I'm a little surprised," says former First Lady Roxane Gilmore, who encouraged
visitors to the mansion, especially children. "We never found that having the
citizens of Virginia come to the mansion and see it was really an inconvenience."
But, Gilmore says, each administration has the right to open the mansion or
not as it sees fit.
Collis' decision is hardly unprecedented; many other states' executive mansions
close for the summer. Some don't give tours at all.
Docents, most of whom are women of a certain age, show thousands of visitors
each year around the elegant home, completed in 1813 and renovated in 1999 at
a cost of $7.2 million. The first floor of the house has been open for tours,
off and on, since 1954.
Bowers says she's heard no complaints from the 59 volunteer docents, who are
mostly glad to have a summer vacation. But a few say they're disappointed.
"A little thing is a little thing until you become faithful to that little
thing," says one docent, who has given tours once a month for nearly 20 years
and who asks not to be identified. "Every mansion doesn't do this," she acknowledges.
"But Virginia is unique."
When the first lady is on vacation this summer, tours can be arranged for interested
groups if they call ahead, says Bruce Garrison, executive mansion director.
Summer is the season with the lowest tour attendance, says Bowers, since no
school groups come through. The busiest times at the mansion are during the
legislative session, when 300 people tour the mansion on an average day, and
weekends around Christmas. The popular Garden Week begins April 20 this year,
so people may still tour the mansion's grounds then.
"The house belongs to Virginia, and [most first families] like people to see
it," says the unhappy docent. "Of course," she admits, "it is an imposition.
Could be." Melissa Scott Sinclair