It is with great sadness that I report the death of Kevin Lee Sarring, the generous and multitalented architect who gave so much of his time and talent to the restoration of Happy Retreat. Kevin was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) earlier this year. He died on June 17, in California, where he had moved to be near his sister. His loss as a friend and advisor is inestimable. From the time we acquired Happy Retreat in 2015, Kevin devoted hundreds of hours to the work of restoring the house and its outbuildings. He not only advised us in our discussions, he completed dozens of exquisite drawings showing in detail how the restoration work should be done. His modesty and good humor belied an incredible career of accomplishment which is highlighted in this newsletter.
To honor Kevin’s memory, the Board awarded him the first Happy Retreat Distinguished Service award which will henceforth be known as the Sarring Award, to be given annually to a person or organization who provides exemplary service to Happy Retreat. We have also created the annual Sarring Lecture series, which will feature a distinguished speaker on history, architecture or historic preservation. We have established the Sarring Scholarship Fund to be awarded to a Jefferson County high school or college student who shows a special interest and ability in history, architecture or historic preservation. In these ways, we hope to perpetuate the recognition of Kevin’s invaluable leadership in the restoration of Happy Retreat. Happy Retreat itself will be the greatest memorial to his memory.
The past four months have upended life at Happy Retreat as much as anywhere. We cancelled all of the remaining concerts of the chamber music season, our book series and the Craft Beer & Music Festival. This was to have been a gala year marking the 250th anniversary of Harewood, the home of Charles Washington’s brother Samuel; the 240th anniversary of Happy Retreat; and the 220th anniversary of Claymont, the home of Charles’s grand-nephew, Bushrod Corbin Washington. We are deferring those celebrations until next year. We still hope to have some sort of a Christmas Open House in December, depending on the state of things.
Through the support of an anonymous grant, last fall we hired Jane Ailes, a highly respected research historian, to research the enslaved population at Happy Retreat. She has completed the first stage of the project which brings forth important new information about the early owners of the house and the enslaved men, women and children who lived and worked there. We will be making the results of her work public soon and will devote much of the next issue of The Rising Sun to her findings. It will be a timely tribute to all of those whose history is part of Happy Retreat.
As we face uncertain times, thank you for your continued interest in and support of Happy Retreat.