The Monroe-Highland Commission serves the President of William & Mary by advising the Executive Director and the College on strategic direction and the future of Highland. The Monroe-Highland Commission completed a master plan for Highland that was adopted in September 2016. It directs the continued discovery of Monroe’s legacy through research and restoration of the Monroe landscape. Our vision for the property includes Rustic walking trails, which opened to the public in April 2018. Our work at James Monroe’s Highland seeks to demonstrate relevance to wider public through diverse and inclusive historical narratives.
Mary Jae Abbitt-Sushka
Mary Jae Abbitt-Sushka has held leadership roles in financial regulation as part of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and in the private sector. She has served as a USAID Governance and Economic Development Advisor, and a Gender and Business Development Specialist. Mary Jae has contributed to women’s business ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2015, MJ’s family sponsored and constructed the solar paneled “green” Bamyan Baba School. Starting initially with 25 students, Bamyan Baba School now has over 400 students. Mary Jae enjoys returning annually to share the results of girls and boys learning together.
She currently serves on the boards of The Paramount Theater, PARSA, and Direct Aid International.
MJ’s love of history and education led her to become a guide at James Monroe’s Highland, a role she held from 2008-2020. Her family has supported many of Highland’s recent initiatives, including the dendrochronological testing that was a key component to understanding the 1818 Guesthouse.
A love of history and viticulture also inspired MJ’s family to restore High Meadows Inn, Restaurant and Vineyard. High Meadows operated as a successful business until it was sold in 2010.
MJ received her BA in History with a minor in English Education from Furman University. She went on to receive her MSBA from Boston University where she participated in the International London Program and was a member of its first graduating class. Mary Jae is married to retired Naval Submarine Officer Peter Sushka. Their son Kevin is a teacher in Central Virginia.
James founded Bell Brand Advisors in 2011 to provide clients with high quality, knowledgeable and personalized brand management advice without big city, big firm costs.
James has expertise in the development and implementation of comprehensive branding programs for clients of all sizes and industries. James has 33 years of experience in market positioning and corporate and brand identification across a diverse range of industries and geographies, including 17 years as a senior partner in brand strategy at Lippincott. He also led Lippincott’s naming practice and directed its staffing, training and recruiting programs during his time there.
Prior to joining Lippincott, James was a principal at the brand strategy consultancy Anspach Grossman Portugal (now The Brand Union) and a vice president at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising in New York.
James frequently writes and speaks on issues of brand strategy, design, naming and marketing communications. He has recently published articles in the Journal of Business Strategy, Gestión Magazine, a leading Latin American business publication and the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Focus. He has also been a guest speaker at the Public Relation Society of America, Reputation Institute and International Association of Business Communicators conferences and been quoted in Ad Age, Brand Week, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, among others.
James has been a guest lecturer on marketing and brand building at the undergraduate engineering school, McIntire School of Commerce and Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia since 1999. He is also an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Darden School’s Batten Institute Innovation Lab (iLab), where he lectures, advises and mentors local and regional start-up companies on brand management.
James holds a B.S. in Architecture from the University of Virginia and resides with his wife of 31 years and two daughters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Governor Matt Blunt
Governor Matt Blunt is President of the American Automotive Policy Council, a trade association representing the common public policy and trade interests of FCA US, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company.
In 2004, Matt Blunt was elected the 54th Governor of Missouri, carrying 101 of the state’s 114 counties. As governor, he eliminated a $1.1 billion deficit and delivered balanced budgets, a surplus, tax relief and dramatic increases in education funding. He enacted economic growth measures to improve the state’s business climate leading to the creation of over 70,000 jobs.
Prior to his election as governor, he served in the Missouri House of Representatives and as Missouri’s Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, he reformed state election laws and used technology to increase customer convenience while also reducing costs.
Governor Blunt served 14 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve, which included assignments on the USS JACK WILLIAMS (FFG-24), and the USS PETERSON (DD-969). As a Reservist, he was mobilized after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Governor Blunt is a Director for Copart (NASDAQ: CPRT), the USAA Life Insurance Company of New York and Dent Wizard International. He is a member of the board of business advisors for Gridiron Capital. Governor Blunt was also appointed by the President of William & Mary to the Monroe-Highland Commission which is assisting with the management of Highland, the home of James Monroe.
While serving in the Navy, Governor Blunt was awarded four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals as well as numerous other military awards. In 2005, Governor Blunt was selected as one of the 10 Outstanding Young Americans by the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees). He has also received the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Award for Leadership Excellence. Twice Governor Blunt was named as one of the Ten Who Made a Difference by Southern Business and Development. In 2008, he received the National Award for State Arts Leadership. In addition, Governor Blunt has received numerous other awards for support of the business community, the arts, children’s health, Missouri agriculture, community colleges and health care innovation.
Governor Blunt earned his bachelor’s degree in History from the U.S. Naval Academy. He, his wife Melanie, and their two sons, William Branch and Brooks currently reside in Delaplane, Virginia.
Chris Little, Chair
Chris Little graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in 1963; he earned his LL.B. in 1966 from the University of Texas and completed the Executive Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in 1978.
Mr. Little retired in 2001 as President of the Publishing Group of the Meredith Corporation, which he joined as Vice President and Publishing Director in 1992. Prior to joining Meredith, he was President of Cowles Magazines (1989-1992) and had a distinguished career at The Washington Post Company from 1976 to 1989.
Mr. Little was appointed to the William & Mary Board of Visitors in 2014. During his tenure he served as Chair (2017-2018) and Vice Chair (2015-2017) of the Committee on Audit and Compliance, Vice Chair of the Committee on University Advancement, and was a member of the Committee on Financial Affairs and the Investments Subcommittee. In 2014 Mr. Little was appointed by the William & Mary Rector as the Board Liaison to Highland, working with the Monroe-Highland Commission on oversight and strategic initiatives. When he stepped down from the W&M Board of Visitors in 2018, he was appointed to the Monroe-Highland Commission by President Katherine Rowe. As of 2019 Chris serves as Chair of the Monroe-Highland Commission.
In addition to his work on the Monroe-Highland Commission, Mr. Little serves on the Executive Committee of the American Shakespeare Center, is Chair of the Community Advisory Council of the Heifetz International Music Institute and is Senior Warden of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Blue Grass, Virginia.
Dr. Jill Marie Lord is an architectural historian who specializes in nineteenth-century American architecture. She has presented her most recent work focusing on libraries at such venues as the Mount Vernon House Museum in New York City and the Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in 2013. In 2014 Drayton Hall selected her for their Distinguished Speaker Series.
After earning her undergraduate degree from William & Mary, Dr. Lord completed a Master of Architectural History at the University of Virginia, and then a PhD at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She has taught at both Brooklyn and Hunter Colleges in New York City. She has also contributed architectural research for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Merchant’s House Museum in New York City. Dr. Lord currently serves as an adjunct professor of architectural history at the University of Virginia.
Susan Aheron Magill served from 1997 – 2006 on the Board of Visitors of William & Mary where she was elected as Secretary, Vice Rector and Rector. A Virginia native and graduate of the College, Magill was only the second woman in the history of the college to serve as Rector.
Magill was appointed by two Virginia Governors to the State Council on Higher Education. She served from 2006 to 2012, the final two years as Chair. She was a member of the Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government at the request of the Governor during 2014-2015.
Magill was Vice President for Advancement at George Washington’s Mount Vernon after decades of service in senior positions in state and federal government as well as the nonprofit sector. She served as Managing Director for State and Federal Relations for the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the largest and most prestigious nonprofits in the U.S. Prior to her tenure with Pew, Magill was the Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator John Warner for more than 20 years. In 1996 she served as Executive Director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Activities. Before joining Senator Warner, Magill was the Director of the Washington, D.C. office for the Commonwealth of Virginia under Governor John Dalton and on the staff of Congressman M. Caldwell Butler. Currently she is engaged with her consulting practice and a variety of philanthropic activities including the Monroe-Highland Commission.
Jim Murray has been a principal in firms specializing in investment banking and venture capital in the telecommunications and information technology industries since 1982. He is the past Chairman of the Monroe-Highland Commission. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Seakeeper, Inc.; is Chairman of the Presidential Precinct, and Vice-Rector of the Board of Visitors of The University of Virginia.
Jim is the author of Wireless Nation: The Frenzied Launch of the Cellular Revolution in America, the first definitive account of how the American cell phone industry evolved. Wireless Nation was selected by Booklist as one of the “top ten” business books of 2001. He is one of the contributing authors of Inside the Minds: Venture Capital Exit Strategies, (2004, Aspatore Books).
He has been a guest lecturer at Harvard Business School; the Darden Graduate Business School and the McIntyre School of Commerce at the University of Virginia; the Graduate Business School at William & Mary; and at Piedmont Community College.
Jim received his B. A. from the University of Virginia, a J. D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at William & Mary and an honorary Doctor of Laws from William & Mary. Jim served for six years on the Board of Visitors of William & Mary. From 1994 through 1996 he served as Rector (chairman) of that board.
Tara Ruszkowski is a cross-sector communications and public affairs strategist with a proven track record collaborating with corporate, governmental, non-profit, and educational institutions. In 1999, she founded Ruszkowski & Associates, an independent consulting practice specializing in community engagement and public-private partnerships.
Ms. Ruszkowski has broad experience living and working overseas where she created successful partnerships between corporate clients and country-based NGOs. She has written and edited training materials about the legislative process, including a handbook used by Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly. Ms. Ruszkowski has participated in multiple international election observer delegations.
From 2010-2017, Ms. Ruszkowski served as an adjunct faculty instructor in the George Mason University Department of Communication teaching courses in public relations and media spokesmanship.
Active in public service and an advocate for outcome-oriented solutions to poverty and homelessness, Ms. Ruszkowski serves as board chair of the Lamb Center, a social services organization serving poor and homeless individuals in Fairfax County.
In 2008, Ruszkowski was appointed to the George Mason University Department of Communication Insight Committee where she served until 2017. The committee builds relationships between the department and Washington-area public relations professionals and mentors the next generation of GMU communicators. From 1994 until 1999, Ms. Ruszkowski served as a Vice President of Public Affairs in both the Washington and Prague offices of the global public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. She also worked for five years as a legislative aide for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN).
Ms. Ruszkowski attended The Catholic University of America and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Politics. She is a William & Mary parent and serves on the Monroe-Highland Commission.
Hon. John Charles Thomas
Judge Thomas graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American government in 1972. He attended the University of Virginia School of Law and received his law degree in 1975. Following law school, Thomas joined Hunton & Williams, then styled Hunton, Williams, Gay & Gibson. He was the first African-American at the firm.
In 1983, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, becoming the first African American and (being 32) the youngest person of any race to sit there. In the middle of his seventh year on the court, he resigned (due to illness) and was succeeded by Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr.. who later became the court’s first black chief justice. Judge Thomas now practices law in Richmond, Virginia as part of the Hunton & Williams LLP law firm.
In 1995, he received the NAACP’s Lifetime Image Award.
In 2005, Thomas was named a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The members of the Court include lawyers and former jurists from around the world. CAS is an independent arbitral institution created in 1983 to settle sports-related disputes involving drug violations and rules of international sports federations. It hears cases arising from most world-class sporting competition and has global jurisdiction. The Court has offices in Lausanne, Switzerland; Sydney, Australia; and New York City, and establishes ad hoc offices in Olympic host cities, as required.
In 2006, Thomas was appointed to the Board of Visitors of William & Mary, a position to which he was reappointed in 2009.
In 2009, Thomas asked to be considered for a seat on the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Virginia Bar Association included Thomas on the list of candidates it submitted to Virginia’s two senators on February 24, 2009.
Jeff Trammell’s expertise is in higher education and public affairs. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and is the author of Effective Board Chairs: A Guide for University and College Chairs (AGB Press, 2016). He is a contributing editor for Trusteeship and is the author of Liberal Arts: Creating and Re-creating America’s Future, May/June 2012 Trusteeship, and LGBT Challenges in Higher Education Today: 5 Key Principles for Success, May/June 2014 Trusteeship.
Trammell was Rector of William & Mary from 2011 to 2013. He served on William & Mary’s Board of Visitors from 2005 to 2013, where he oversaw the development and implementation of the university’s long-term strategic plan, which included a new sustainable financial model with greater affordability, a campaign to double the endowment, achieving the highest alumni annual giving rate for any public university and a focus on engaged learning with faculty driven innovation.
Trammell was the founding chair of the board of the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy at William & Mary. He served on the Higher Education Transition Team for Governor, Terry McAuliffe, and as a member of the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments. He is a member of the Monroe-Highland Commission which oversees Monroe’s presidential home, Highland. He is a member of the Board of Advisors, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland Medical School. Trammell is the chair of the board of the Harriman Fellows, a program that furthers the work of the late Ambassador Pamela Harriman by placing students in internships at embassies.
In his non-academic activities, Jeff Trammell is president and founder of Trammell and Company, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., which advises corporations on external affairs. Previously, Trammell served as senior managing director of public affairs at Hill & Knowlton. He worked in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives and served as a senior advisor in presidential campaigns.
Trammell was the first openly gay chair of the board of a major American public university. He has served on numerous other boards, including the Human Rights Campaign and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Gay and Lesbian Remembrance Project. He attended William & Mary on a basketball scholarship and was captain of the team and all-conference.
Trammell received a B.A. in History in 1973 from William & Mary and a J.D. in 1977 from Florida State University. He is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa at William & Mary, where he received the university’s highest alumni recognition award.