John An­der­son proves you can go home again — in style

His home, Jes­samine Hill, is grand set­ting for May 7 ben­e­fit

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Daphne Hutchin­son

“I bought this place to share with oth­ers, to give some­thing back to the county. I was born and raised here. Af­ter my fam­ily, I love this county best,” said John An­der­son, ex­plain­ing why Jes­samine Hill, his el­e­gant brick manor house nearly two cen­turies old and beau­ti­fully re­stored, is the set­ting for the Rap­pa­han­nock Food Pantry’s an­nual ben­e­fit din­ner on May 7.

An­der­son could be a hero who stepped from the pages of an Ho­ra­tio Al­ger story. “I grew up poor in Rap­pa­han­nock County. No one ex­pected this,” he ac­knowl­edged. The An­der­son home place was at the foot of Mt. Mar­shall, his fa­ther was a farmer, his mother took in laun­dry, and the six An­der­son chil­dren started work­ing along­side their par­ents be­fore they started school. Judged by to­day’s stan­dards or even by the signs of the time, it was a hard life, but mea­sured by in­tan­gi­bles, it was rich and full. Take John’s child­hood mem­ory of ac­com­pa­ny­ing his dad to har­vest the

dead ch­est­nut trees on Mt. Mar­shall and haul the logs to Lu­ray. For him, the vivid rec­ol­lec­tion is not the la­bor, but rather try­ing to beat the train on the trip out of town. “Now, who can say they’ve raced a steam lo­co­mo­tive?” he asked, smil­ing broadly.

John left Rap­pa­han­nock in 1964 af­ter high school grad­u­a­tion for a Grade 2 clerk typ­ist job with the U.S. govern­ment. He earned a de­gree from an ac­count­ing school and took night classes from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia ex­ten­sion and Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity to add a busi­ness de­gree, as he climbed the gen­eral ser­vices lad­der, reach­ing grade GS 15. Then in early 1980, he was re­cruited by A.T. Kear­ney, one of the na­tion’s old­est and most pres­ti­gious man­age­ment con­sul­tant com­pa­nies. At the in­ter­view, while he was still con­sid­er­ing other prospects, he thought fast when an un­ex­pected of­fer was pre­sented, and he con­di­tioned his ac­cep­tance on bringing with him two hand-picked sub­or­di­nates.

It was an in­spired move. John bombed on the com­pany’s fa­mously dif­fi­cult em­ploy­ment test. (Ca­reer re­view sites rank A.T. Kear­ney’s in­ter­view process the most chal­leng­ing of ma­jor firms.) But one of his com­pa­tri­ots posted the high­est score ever and the other was in the top 10 per­cent of would-be hires. Rec­og­niz­ing po­ten­tial, the CEO av­er­aged the three scores to give John a pass­ing grade. “Ev­ery­body who works with me or for me is six times smarter than me,” John joked.

That was 36 years ago, and An­der­son is now the long­est tenured part­ner – “the last man stand­ing” – in the 90-yearold con­sult­ing com­pany. Orig­i­nally a spe­cial­ist in trans­porta­tion and lo­gis­tics, he grew with the firm. While A.T. Kear­ney ex­panded from four of­fices in the U.S. to 60 of­fices in 40 coun­tries, he worked — and learned — in the in­dus­tries that power the world’s eco­nomic engines: aero­space and de­fense, au­to­mo­tive, com­mu­ni­ca­tions me­dia and tech­nol­ogy, chem­i­cals, health­care, min­ing and met­als, oil and gas, con­sumer prod­ucts and re­tail, in­fra­struc­ture and util­i­ties and more.

“I had the abil­ity to con­nect the dots,” An­der­son said, de­scrib­ing him­self as a “busi­ness psy­chi­a­trist,” whose job it is to con­vince in­dus­try and govern­ment that A.T. Kear­ney can help them do great things, and then mo­ti­vate them to action and lead them to be­liev­ing that it’s as much their idea as the con­sult­ing firm’s. The keys to his suc­cess? “Pas­sion, per­sis­tence, pa­tience and a work ethic,” he says. “I was in the right place at the right time, and I’ve been for­tu­nate to see a lot of things in my life. I’m an av­er­age per­son who worked very hard, and I had phe­nom­e­nal men­tors,” he stressed re­peat­edly. “Work was my great pas­sion. Work and this place, Jes­samine Hill.”

Over the decades, John re­turned reg­u­larly to Rap­pa­han­nock to visit his par­ents and his sis­ter Alice. “On the ride from War­ren­ton, my blood pres­sure would drop 20 points.” Lov­ing “the beauty and the won­der­ful peo­ple” of the county, he de­ter­mined to have a home here again.

He found Jes­samine Hill. “It’s been an ad­ven­ture and a jour­ney to re­store this place.” A big ad­ven­ture, con­sid­er­ing that An­der­son fell through the rot­ten front steps on his first visit, and a long jour­ney, con­sid­er­ing re­cov­ery took 16 years.

Built be­tween 1825 and 1830 by James Leake Pow­ers, a protégé of Thomas Jef­fer­son who also con­structed Trinity Epis­co­pal Church, the court­house, the clerk’s of­fice and the town hall in Wash­ing­ton, Jes­samine Hill was orig­i­nally the home of Thomas Fletcher and his wife, Su­san Stack Fletcher. Atop a knoll in Tiger Val­ley, the grand manor house com­mands a breath­tak­ing view, with for­mal gar­dens giv­ing way to rolling pas­tures against a back­drop of the Blue Ridge. But in 1998, it was a near wreck — house, grounds and out­build­ings. “The cheap­est part was buy­ing it,” An­der­son said. “I didn’t know what I was get­ting into.”

So just as in his pro­fes­sional life, he found ex­perts whom he could trust to help. “I dis­cov­ered the won­der­ful Ray Cof­fey from Castle­ton. He’s been the sav­ior of this house in terms of all the work he did. He’s worked reg­u­larly on this place for 16 years.” And he built the awe­some kitchen that is every cook’s dream – “the best thing about the house,” ac­cord­ing to An­der­son. “I found a won­der­ful painter and plas­terer, Ge­orge Pey­ton. A won­der­ful brick and stone ma­son, Glenn Burke.” The other all-stars on the Jes­samine Hill team are An­der­son’s sis­ter, Alice, and his sec­ond cousin, Ge­orge Jenk­ins. Jenk­ins is the farm’s man­ager and handy­man. Alice is Jes­samine’s care­taker in her brother’s ab­sence, and both re­stored and now main­tain the grounds and gar­dens.

And for 18 years, An­der­son has been project man­ager, gen­eral con­trac­tor and some­times week­end la­borer. He hauled away rubbish. He pruned bushes and trees. He mowed. He cut down the dead and dy­ing gi­ant elms that lined the nearly one-mile drive­way. On oc­ca­sion, he even swung a ham­mer.

And be­tween man­age­ment con­sult­ing with A.T. Kear­ney and gen­eral con­tract­ing at Jes­samine Hill, An­der­son be­gan fur­nish­ing the manor house, start­ing with a Louis XIV clock found in a Parisian mar­ket. He com­bined busi­ness trips with shop­ping ex­pe­di­tions. “I trav­eled every day. I could leave the of­fice a half hour be­fore the plane was sched­uled to de­part. Can’t do that now.”

But af­ter he met Kath­leen Robert­son in 2003, and they joined forces, the de­sign of Jes­samine’s in­te­rior took off. John cred­its Kath­leen with cre­at­ing “the look” of the manor house. She picked out most of the fur­nish­ings and then proved her fa­cil­ity with in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing by se­lect­ing all the down­stairs draperies in a sin­gle afternoon and the paint col­ors, room by room, in a day.

The re­sult is a house mu­seum with a wel­com­ing, com­fort­able feel­ing. There’s a sweep­ing cen­tral stair­case, seven fire­places with Greek Re­vival man­tel­pieces, a for­mal din­ing room un­der the eyes of Thomas Fletcher in por­trait, wall ta­pes­tries and a hutch filled with Water­ford crys­tal and blue and white wil­low. The for­mer ball­room has been trans­formed into an invit­ing fam­ily room with an English ma­hogany game table cov­ered in needle­point and petit point. An­tique fur­ni­ture, Turkish rugs, porce­lains, etch­ings and paint­ings are ev­ery­where.

Cos­mic road signs af­firm that An­der­son made the right choice with Jes­samine Hill. The vista from the front porch per­fectly frames The Peak, as Mt. Mar­shall was known in his child­hood. And in the early days of restora­tion, when he was clear­ing the Fletcher fam­ily grave­yard, he found the head­stone of John Kin­sey Fletcher, the man he’s named af­ter. “When I die, this John Kin­sey is go­ing in right be­hind the first John Kin­sey.”

Mean­while, John and Kath­leen take pride and plea­sure in open­ing their home for his fa­vorite com­mu­nity causes, in­clud­ing the Rap­pa­han­nock His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, Trinity Epis­co­pal Church and the Rap­pa­han­nock Food Pantry. The pantry’s ben­e­fit din­ner on May 7 is the sec­ond time they have been host for the an­nual fundraiser, and John has a wish for this year’s gala. “This is re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to me. I would love to see more peo­ple born and raised in Rap­pa­han­nock County at this won­der­ful event.”

And he re­peated his rea­sons for ac­quir­ing and restor­ing Jes­samine Hill: “Be­cause I could, be­cause I love the county and be­cause I want to share this place with oth­ers.”

Na­tive son John An­der­son


Jes­samine Hill was orig­i­nally the home of Thomas Fletcher, whose por­trait still watches over the for­mal din­ing room.

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