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Bosses II

Dr. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, Dr. Michael Kurtz, Adrienne Thomas

Michael Kurtz

Michael Joseph Kurtz was born on March 8, 1949, in Leesburg Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from Catholic University in Washington, DC and both his Masters and Doctorate degrees from Georgetown University. He began his career at the National Archives in 1974.

Kurtz served at the Archives for 37 years, during which time he held significant leadership positions, supervised hundreds of staff in multiple locations, and led national efforts in electronic records preservation and management, declassification, and transparency of government records. For the15 years prior to his retirement from the National Archives (1996-2011) he served as Assistant Archivist for Records Services.

Beyond his dedicated professional practice, Dr. Kurtz was also a respected archival educator who served in an adjunct capacity and as a visiting professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies. He is the author of several celebrated books and is an expert on Nazi contraband during WWII.

I caught Michael relatively early in his supervisory career at the Archives. When I left the National Audiovisual Center in 1985, I returned “downtown” to main archives to work in the Planning and Analysis Division and became a program analyst responsible for process and efficiency audits of agency programs. I reported to Michael Kurtz who was Assistant Director for Program Analysis. While I had done similar work as a management intern, I was relatively new to the analysis craft and unfamiliar with that “I’m not sure what I’m doing” feeling.

Michael is a good reader of people and felt my anxiety right out of the box. His solution was a relatively short leash. This was something else that I was not used to but learned to accept as the days wore on. Michael had the right touch and a friendship started that has lasted for decades.

Michael was a master at the fine art of delegation, and I watched him accomplish great goals through his trusted staff. He developed good people and then gave them their freedom to do the job. His grip was totally dependent on achieved goals and he had a sense of metrics and tracking long before that became a modern management practice. He knew where his team was on the path to success and knew how to make the changes and sometimes tough decisions to reach that goal.

I learned: define it, measure it, track it from Michael as did a generation of managers at the National Archives.

Adrienne Thomas

Born in Corydon, Iowa, Adrienne Thomas began her long career with the National Archives in 1970 after receiving a master’s degree in American History from Iowa State University. She started out as an archivist trainee in the Office of Presidential Libraries but shifted to the administrative management side of the agency where her career would thrive. She eventually served as Deputy Archivist of the United States from 2007 through 2011 and Acting Archivist of the United States from December 2008 through November 2009. She retired in 2011with more than 40 years of service.

Adrienne left her mark on the National Archives in many ways and in many places. Most notably she led the policy and personnel transition when the National Archives gained its independence from the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1984, lead the renovation of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC and the design and construction of the National Archives at College Park. She was named Deputy Archivist of the United States in January 2008 and served as Acting Archivist from December 2008 to November 2009.

On a snowy day in December 1984 as the Archives planned its transition back to an independent agency, I stopped by to see my old friend Adrienne Thomas. When I was an intern, Adrienne and I had been thrown together by Archives Executive Director Walt Robertson to coordinate the Archives participation in the “GSA Olympics”. It was a sorry task and getting PhD’s and other intellectuals to sign up for a ridiculous field day competition between the services of GSA was nigh on impossible. If we thought this was a fool’s errand, our opinion was confirmed on the night of the event when Art Samson, Administrator of the General Services Administration emerged from his white stretch limousine on the playing field in Suitland, Maryland wearing a white toga and sporting an olive wreath emperor crown. The Awkward Moment Trophy was retired at that point in GSA history.

Our acerbic senses of humor clicked as did our respect for each other as possible Archives lifers. So, 13 years later when Adrienne was head of policy for the agency and I wanted to come back to the “Mother Ship” from the audiovisual hinterlands, a drop-by was an important part of my career planning.

I joined Adrienne’s organization in August 1985 and after a brief stay on the staff of Michael Kurtz, I was promoted to head the directives staff. Over the course of the next 12 months, I supervised the development of a policy and procedures manual for every aspect of the National Archives operations. I was eventually selected to replace Adrienne Thomas when she moved up to become the Executive Director of the Agency.

Adrienne taught me passion for the task. For a significant portion of her career, that passion was the construction of the National Archives at College Park, affectionately known as Archives II. From concept through design and construction she threw herself into the task. There was no detail too small or task too large for Adrienne in those years. The total joy on her face on Dedication Day, May 12, 1994 I will always remember. She built what is surely the most state of the art archives facility in the world.

To honor her service to the National Archives, and the nation, the Adrienne C. Thomas Auditorium at the National Archives at College Park was dedicated on March 21, 2011.

Trudy Huskamp Peterson

When your parents give you a first name like Trudy, you are already 10 points behind in a male-dominated world. But if you are very tall, very smart, and very determined, you quickly make up ground.

Trudy Huskamp Peterson earned her B.S. in English and History from Iowa State University in 1967 and both her M.A. and Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Iowa. She began her career at the National Archives in 1967.

I had been Acting Director of Congressional Affairs under Archivist of the United States Don Wilson. After the agency was turned upside down by a highly critical Government Accounting Office (GAO) report requested by Senator John Glenn, both Wilson and his Deputy Archivist Claudine Weiher left, and Trudy Peterson became Acting Archivist of the United States. She was the first woman ever to hold the title and was well equipped, having previously headed the largest office of the agency.

In a meeting with Maryann Smith, White House Liaison to the Archives, it was determined that the agency needed to drop my “acting” title and make me the Director of Congressional Affairs. Trudy made that call and basically gave me a new career for which I will always be grateful. In the volatile environment of the times, her trust in me charged my engines for what was an “exciting” ride.

Given the anger that lingered and the political connections of some of those who now were former employees, we remained in the Republican cross hairs on Capitol Hill and consequently in the headlines. One appropriations committee hearing I will never forget was heralded in the Washington Post with both headlines and some provocative quotes from Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia who would be questioning Trudy that morning. We had three things going for us, the truth, Trudy’s cool demeanor under pressure, and her stride. Yes, her stride.

After coaching her on the likely questions and practicing the truthful answers in a “murder board,” I had given Trudy one last piece of advice. “When the hearing is over, we need to get out of there quickly because there is no good reason to get caught in a media scrum”.

Well, after Trudy did an artful job of responding to every hostile question and making the funding points that we had to make, the gavel came down to end the hearing. It might as well have been the starter’s pistol for the100-yard dash, because when I stood up from the witness table Trudy was nowhere to be seen. She left the room in three steps and was already standing at the elevator when I blasted out of the door. Once in the elevator, I remember laughing about her uncanny ability to run in high heels.

Being the Acting Archivist of the United States is not an easy task. Frank Burke before her and both Adrienne Thomas and Deb Wall after her have lived the trials and tribulations of this thankless task. All the responsibility with none of the committed political backing, all the headaches with only a teacup full of the honor is the reality every day. And as we are currently being reminded, it is an important job with very high stakes.

Both during and after her National Archives service, Trudy has held numerous national and international leadership roles in the archival world and remains a sought after speaker and consultant in the field.

I learned calm and grace from Trudy. Confident in her expertise and armed with decades of experience, she led the ship through some very tough seas and never flinched.


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