Recipient Biography

John J. Nau III


Dialogue regarding America’s historic preservation and associated land conservation will inevitably draw acolytes for John L. Nau III, prominent citizen advocate, inspiring leader and successful business executive. His name became synonymous with the protection of our nation’s historic landmarks shortly after he was appointed Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) by President George W. Bush. John served as chairman of this sector of the U.S. Department of Interior from 2001 to 2010, leading efforts to create a White House initiative, Preserve America, which included various components such as Community Designations, Presidential Awards and Grant programs. Signed by President Bush on March 3, 2003, Executive Order 13287 - Preserve America recognizes and supports local governments and private sector organizations in their efforts to increase heritage conservation and landmark visitation. Grant funding was established for Preserve America during John’s tenure as ACHP chairman and Preserve America co-chairman. Between 2006 and 2010, over $21 million was awarded in Preserve America Grants for 281 projects carried out by municipalities, counties, historic neighborhoods, and Indian tribes in 49 states. John continued as chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation under President Barack Obama through June 1, 2010.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is responsible for promoting the preservation, enhancement, and productive use of America’s historic resources, and most significantly, advises the President and Congress regarding national historic preservation policy. The Council also oversees the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act. Under John’s leadership, the Council raised its profile and effectiveness as a driving force in advancing preservation goals within the federal government. His personal efforts elevated the status of Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians in the national program, created a presidential Executive Order that set new standards for the stewardship of federal historic properties, and resulted in strong stands for preservation in such diverse and important federal undertakings as the redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s National Historic Landmark campus as the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security and the creation of an industrial wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

John’s interest in American history began at the early age of eight years old, when on a family trip he experienced a visit to a Civil War battlefield at Perryville, Kentucky. The tour of the hallowed ground created an interest and yearning to gain a greater understanding of this significant period of our history. His interest and commitment to Civil War battlefields has continued throughout the years. In 1998, John joined the Board of the Civil War Trust, a private land heritage preservation nonprofit, and in June 2009, became the Trust’s Chairman. He served as Chairman for two years. During this period, John’s leadership and tenacity resulted in successful campaigns to raise millions of dollars in public and private contributions for battlefield preservation, permanently protecting thousands of acres at significant Civil War battlefields endangered by unchecked development and sprawl

Specifically, the Civil War Trust during John’s chairmanship saved 4,500 acres of key land at 35 high-priority Civil War battlefields in nine states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. With John’s expertise and guidance, the Trust effectively leveraged its resources by a factor of 10:1, resulting in Trust expenditures of $5 million that achieved protection of battlefield lands valued at $52 million.

Among the many key battlefield lands preserved during John’s Chairmanship, several stand out as particularly notable:

  • Protection of 85 acres associated with Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s audacious flank attack at the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville (VA). Although the battle is often considered the Confederacy’s greatest victory, it came at a high cost: Jackson was wounded by friendly fire and died of pneumonia 10 days later.
  • Preservation of 84 acres of the Spring Hill, Tennessee battlefield, considered by historians as “most endangered,” due to threat of development. While the value of the tract owned by General Motors was in the millions of dollars, the Trust – led by John – secured permanent protection of Spring Hill for a Civil War Trust expenditures of $100,000.
  • In 2010 and 2011, the Trust participated in the protection of three in-holding parcels at Gettysburg National Military Park (PA), including 95 acres representing the Emanuel Harman Farm, site of intense fighting on July 1, 1863. Protection of this parcel represented the Park’s primary acquisition priority, and was facilitated through collaboration of the Civil War Trust and The Conservation Fund.

Civil War Trust President Jim Lighthizer said, “Many years ago, Stephen Mather, the father of the National Park Service and the first recipient of the Cornelius Pugsley Award, remarked that a visit to one of America’s national parks provides us with a ‘keener appreciation of the privilege of living here.’ Nowhere does this sentiment ring truer than at America’s Civil War battlefields, where we may walk in the footsteps of those who gave what President Abraham Lincoln famously described as ‘the last full measure of devotion’ in defense of the very freedoms Americans hold dear. John Nau’s work at the Civil War Trust to preserve America’s hallowed grounds has helped ensure that we will continue to cherish these freedoms in memory of the sacrifices that made them possible.”

John is a member of the National Park Foundation Board of Directors, where he has served since 2008. The National Park Foundation chartered by Congress in 1967, is a not-for-profit organization responsible for raising funds, establishing grants, and increasing public awareness of national parks in the United States. About 70% of funds raised each year are used for programs which include education, community involvement, and volunteerism. The National Park Foundation works with the National Park Service to educate the public about the parks and recruit volunteers to maintain the parks. John serves as chairman of the Partnerships and Government Relations Committee, launching a new program – “Park Partners.” Neil Mulholland, president and chief executive officer of the National Park Foundation, credits John as a great leader with dedication to the ideal of partnerships and Friends groups, working to heighten community involvement in parks. This Mulholland cites, “pays dividends for the National Park Service, public lands stewardship and local economic development.”

John was presented the 2011 Award of Merit by the Society for Historical Archaeology for his outstanding commitment to preserve Texas’ and the nation’s archaeological heritage through his work as chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, 2001-2010, and as chairman of the Texas Historical Commission, 1997-2009.

John is president and chief executive officer of Silver Eagle Distributors, L.P., the nation’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products and the number-one beer distributor in Texas. Silver Eagle employs more than 1,200 individuals that serve 16 counties in Texas through operations in Houston, San Antonio, and several other communities. Silver Eagle also distributes a broad selection of microbrews, craft beers, nonalcoholic beverages, and waters.

He is a 1968 graduate of the University of Virginia, earning a bachelor of arts in history. He is the immediate past president of the College Foundation of the University, and Vice Chairman of the University of Virginia Capital Campaign. He also served as Chairman of the College of Arts & Sciences Capital Campaign and on the Board of Managers of the Alumni Association. On July 1, 2011, John was appointed to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia by Governor Robert F. McDonnell.

Longtime benefactors of the University of Virginia, John and his wife, Bobbie, were the principal donors to the John L. Nau III Professorship in the History of the American Civil War, now held by distinguished Civil War historian Gary Gallagher. They also endowed a Jefferson Scholars Graduate Fellowship in Civil War Studies, and have supported UVA athletic programs, efforts to preserve the University’s Jeffersonian buildings and grounds, and the University of Virginia’s Alumni Association. In 2003, they made a multimillion-dollar commitment to the University of Virginia for the construction of a new facility, Nau Hall, which serves as the building for the history department for the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

John’s commitment to service is apparent through a broad spectrum of participation in civic, community, and philanthropic organizations in Houston and throughout the United States. His current involvement includes Baylor College of Medicine Board of Trustees, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Board of Trustees, Honorary Trustee of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Honorary Trustee of Texas Heart Institute, Director and Executive Committee member of the Greater Houston Partnership and Advisory Council member to the Center for Big Bend Studies. He also serves as a Board Member for the Center for Houston’s Future, Discovery Green Conservancy, Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park, Houston Police Foundation, The Admiral Nimitz Foundation, and The Texas State Historical Association. Notably, John served as Chairman of the Texas Historical Commission, from 1995 to 2009, a position appointed by the Governor of Texas. He is the founder and President of The Nau Foundation.

John and his wife, Bobbie, reside in Houston, Texas. Their family includes two daughters, Elizabeth Nau Stepanian and husband, Andy; Victoria Nau Johnson and husband, Parker; and five grandchildren: Katharine, Reese, and Driggs Stephanian and Liston and Case Johnson.

John’s leadership and influence in the protection of America’s valued cultural and historic resources represents a legacy recognized as “monumental” as the historic landmarks themselves. [Current as of November, 2011]