2017-02-02 / Front Page

NRF 'Leader and Influencer' Moves On

By Betsy Sherman Walker


"At NRF, Pieter became the champion of the Newport streetscape," says NHS Executive Director Ruth Taylor. "But, he has also been essential as a convener of colleagues, a connection to the field at large, and a sounding board for many of us as we explore new ideas and plan new programs." (NTW File Photo) "At NRF, Pieter became the champion of the Newport streetscape," says NHS Executive Director Ruth Taylor. "But, he has also been essential as a convener of colleagues, a connection to the field at large, and a sounding board for many of us as we explore new ideas and plan new programs." (NTW File Photo) The Newport Restoration Foundation announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24, that Wendy Nicholas, a Boston-based nonprofit administrator, had been appointed interim executive director at the NRF. Board President Roger Mandle, who made the announcement, cited Nicholas’ “wealth of experience in nonprofit leadership as well as historic preservation.”

Nicholas follows Pieter Roos, who is moving on after nearly 20 years at the helm of the foundation.

In a professional statement, Nicholas explains that she provides “interim leadership for nonprofits going through organization and leadership transition.” Her years in the field include 13 as executive director of the Providence Preservation Society, followed by a 17-year tenure as the Northeast regional director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Wendy Nicholas Wendy Nicholas The rich tableau of Newport’s architectural history and its commitment to preservation will no doubt get a pop of color from the practiced strokes of Nicholas’ brush. “I am delighted to be stepping in,” she said. “Times of transition can be very exciting and positive, and lead to many opportunities to grow and excel.” Her immediate priorities, Nicholas told Newport This Week, include “working with the NRF staff and board to advance key priorities in the 2015 strategic plan.”

The foundation is perhaps best-known as the keeper of Rough Point, which was built in 1887 for William H. Vanderbilt but later garnered more significance as the Newport home of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. With her affinity for the extravagant and the exotic (her camels, Princess and Baby, roamed the grounds), Duke was also a philanthropist and art collector. The foundation notes that her home is “still decorated as she left it with French furniture, European art, Chinese porcelains, and Flemish tapestries.”

Mandle said that “Pieter’s vision led to the transformation of Rough Point from a private home into one of the premier house museums in the region.”

Among his colleagues, Roos was seen as an adept collaborator. “Pieter has been an important participating member of Newport’s history and heritage community in both formal and informal ways,” said Ruth Taylor, executive director of the Newport Historical Society. “Certainly he was a leader and an influencer in his positions at the NHS and then the NRF.”

Taylor also told Newport This Week that Roos was “an advocate for the visitor experience and for authentic history programming.”

As a practiced interim director, Nicholas’ goal will be to go forth mindfully and steward the transition. Noting that a tenure of 18 years is “rarely seen nowadays,” Roos has said he is leaving to pursue “new challenges,” which he has already begun to explore.

Perhaps there is another Rough Point waiting.

Roos’ work with the NRF ranged from organizing last April’s Keeping History Above Water conference on the risks posed by sea level rise to historic coastal communities, to campaigning for a historic planner position for the City of Newport, to reforming Historic District zoning ordinances. He oversaw the restoration of properties on Aquidneck Island and recognized the potential in Rough Point as a venue – both house and grounds – for changing exhibitions. He also developed a maintenance program for the NRF properties that became a role model for other organizations to follow. To this day, the residences are known to locals as Doris Duke houses.

“Finally,” Mantle noted, “he led the re-birth of Queen Anne Square from an overlooked eyesore into a magnificent, vibrant public space, utilizing the design skills and artistry of Maya Lin.”

Nicholas said that she finds the History Above Water conference particularly compelling. “Now is the challenge," she adds, "to follow the symposium with some actions to protect Newport properties that are vulnerable to flooding and other impacts of sea level rise.”

“We have built something really great here,” Roos said.

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