By GARY ROBERTSON
Media General News Service
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
His father dropped from the sky.
And it has given Francis Gary Powers Jr. a mission in life.
Powers is named for the former U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down May 1, 1960, while flying for the CIA over the Soviet Union.
The elder Powers’ capture, imprisonment and later his exchange for a famous Russian spy — Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel — provided some of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War.
“In high school and college, I could care less,” said Powers, who moved to Midlothian from Northern Virginia two years ago. “… then a light bulb came on.”
VISION NEARLY REALITY
Powers’ gradual awakening to his father’s role in history — prompted by questions that usually began “Aren’t you … ?” — has led him down a winding path.
In 1996, he incorporated the Cold War Museum, and he’s been working ever since to raise money, collect artifacts and find a place for the museum to call home. He’s now in negotiations with Fairfax County to possibly house the museum in a former missile base on the outskirts of Washington.
Powers says the museum already has an estimated $3 million worth of Cold War artifacts.
“Our primary goal now is the capital campaign,” he said. “Over the next three years we want to raise $3 million, and over the next 10 years, $46 million.”
BACKGROUND AIDS GOALS
While moving the idea of the Cold War Museum forward, the 42-year-old Powers, who holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from George Mason University, has worked a variety of jobs.
He was an assistant registrar for the city of Fairfax and also worked on a Main Street preservation and revitalization effort. Before moving to the Richmond area, he was president of the Vienna-Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce from 2000 to 2005.
But development of the Cold War Museum was always his dream.
“It’s a passion,” he said. “It started out as a way to show Dad’s role in the Cold War. But it immediately turned into a way to preserve the international aspects of Cold War history and to honor our Cold War veterans.”
Harold Closter, director of the Smithsonian’s Affiliations program, said he works with emerging galleries such as the Cold War Museum — coldwar.org — as part of a goal to make it easier for Americans to see Smithsonian objects in their own communities.
Often, it helps the Smithsonian.
“We have benefited from the relationship by receiving artifacts from the Powers family … that have gone to the [Smithsonian National] Air and Space Museum,” Closter said.
SACRIFICE FOR SUCCESS
Since 2005, Powers said he has drawn a modest salary as director of the Cold War Museum. He said it’s been one of the sacrifices he made to turn his dream into a reality.
“With my educational background and dedication to work, I could probably be out making six figures a year. As it is, I’m making less than half of that.”
In 2002, Powers was named one of the year’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.
He’s been earning his pay with the museum by giving lectures, organizing Cold War conferences, building relationships with other museums, fundraising and traveling the U.S. and the world to cement international partnerships.
Earlier this month, he took a trip to Berlin, Germany, to develop a relationship with a museum there that wants to show both sides of the Cold War.
Powers said he relocated from Northern Virginia to Midlothian for a number of reasons, ranging from a lower cost of living to the stress of daily commuting on his wife, Jennifer, who works in the legal field.
PAST EXPLAINS PRESENT
As the world has moved further away from the Cold War, Powers said he has seen interest in it increase. Much of the terrorism and upheaval in the world today, he said, have their roots in the conflict.
“We have to understand the Cold War and learn from it, so we won’t make the same mistake,” Powers said.
Though his father died in 1977, Powers said he hopes the Cold War Museum will keep the elder Powers’ memory alive.
He may get a little help from his 5-year-old son, Trey.
Trey’s formal name is Francis Gary Powers III.
Gary Robertson is a staff writer at Media General’s Richmond
Gary Powers Jr. with Cuban Missile Crisis Vets at fathers grave at Arlington National Cemetary,
Gary attended our May 1st meeting in Washington D.C. and gave a presentation on the Cold War Museum.
GaryPowers Jr. Center at CWVA meeting with Frank Tims and Julio DeCastro of the Cuban Missile Crisis Veterans and myself.