For someone who never lived here, Forrest E. Mars Jr., who died Tuesday at 84, had a huge impact on Williamsburg.
It may have been comparable to the founders of Colonial Williamsburg.
“If John D. Rockefeller Jr. is the father of Colonial Williamsburg for his visionary generosity in restoring Virginia’s colonial capitol, and the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin its spiritual godfather for kindling the idea, Forrest was their progeny,” said Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman of Colonial Williamsburg’s Board of Trustees. “His tireless dedication and big-heartedness towards preserving and sharing the structures, lifestyles and ideas of America’s founding era leave an indelible mark on our nation and the world.”
Mars has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2010 and his donations funded many of Colonial Williamsburg's most recent capital projects.
Mars funded more than $33 million in Colonial Williamsburg projects and initiatives, according to the foundation, including rebuilding the Market House in honor of his wife Jacomien Mars, and providing endowments for Historic Area preservation.
His most recent gift of $10 million, made in May 2016, honored Nancy and Colin Campbell by creating a new Archaeological Collections Building in their name.
Donations from Mars also paid for the construction of Charlton's Coffee House and the redesign of the old blacksmith shop into the Public Armory.
His company donated candy for last year's first official Colonial Williamsburg Halloween event.
According to the latest Forbes rankings, Mars had a fortune estmated at $25 billion.
Current and former Colonial Williamsburg officials expressed sadness at his passing.
“Forrest Mars is surely among a rarified pantheon of great Americans who have made Colonial Williamsburg a national treasure,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, president of Colonial Williamsburg. “In so doing, he is himself part of that treasure. He has helped us keep the light of history and the call of patriotism alive in America.”
Colin G. Campbell, Colonial Williamsburg chairman emeritus and former president, who worked closely with Mars for many years, said, “Colonial Williamsburg has lost an extraordinary benefactor and Nancy and I have lost a dear friend and counselor. These gifts and others at Colonial Williamsburg represent a remarkable legacy which has been transformative at this place for which he had such deep affection.”
A graduate of Yale University and the New York University School of Business, Mars’ appreciation of Colonial Williamsburg began during visits to the restored 18th-century city.
In addition to being a member of the Board of Trustees, Mars was a lifetime member of the Foundation’s Raleigh Tavern and Goodwin donor societies. He recieved the Foundation’s highest award for public service, leadership, and stewardship, the Churchill Bell, in November 2013.
Vaughan can be reached at (757)345-2343.