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Dreyfuss' think tank aims to purchase Happy Retreat

September 18, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Actor Richard Dreyfuss replies to a question posed to him Friday by a Washington High School student in Charles Town, W.Va.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Actor Richard Dreyfuss was in Jefferson County last week promoting his purchase of a local Washington family home for The Dreyfuss Initiative, his new progressive think tank.

The Oscar-winning actor laid it on the line Saturday afternoon before 150 supporters and the just-plain curious on the front lawn of Happy Retreat, the 18th-century home of George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles.

“I need one million bucks from you,” Dreyfuss told the crowd. “This place can be known as the intellectual capital of the country, and if we don’t get it, you won’t have it.”

A brochure promoting Saturday’s event implied that his foundation already owns the 7,000-square-foot home by inviting people to a dedication and ribbon cutting. “Happy Retreat is the new home of the George Washington Institute on the Enlightenment. We are dedicating this global learning center to George Washington’s civic legacy,” Dreyfuss is quoted as saying in the brochure.

The fact is The Dreyfuss Initiative and Friends of Happy Retreat, a local nonprofit, are trying to raise $1.2 million to buy the property from the estate of its late owners, William and Mary Gavin.

Walter Washington, a direct descendant of George Washington’s oldest brother, Samuel, said the Friends group has been trying to buy the property for more than five years. Now, it has partnered with the Dreyfuss group in the venture.

Randy Hilton, president of Friends of Happy Retreat, said if the campaign is successful, both groups will share working space in the home at 600 Mordington Ave.

A Gavin family member is currently taking care of the property, Hilton said.

On Saturday, Happy Retreat was one of four Washington family plantation homes on a tour as part of Charles Town’s 225th-anniversary celebration. The other three Washington homes on the tour were Harewood, owned by Walter Washington and the site of the wedding of James and Dolley Madison; Claymont; and Beallair.

George Washington, Dreyfuss said, “is closely identified with the values we have in the United States. He was a man who created himself from a blank sheet. He saw what he wished to be and pursued it. We owe him an extraordinary debt.

“We need your money to create something that has never existed before,” he said. There’s never been a research think tank dedicated to enlightenment “where the best of all of us can give depth, breadth, reason, logic and clarity of thought.”

Dreyfuss said his secondary goal is to one day win the Nobel Peace Prize.

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