Marc Pachter: Remembering a Mentor and Friend

Museum President & CEO Emeritus Nick Mueller mourns the loss of friend and colleague Marc Pachter. 

Marc Pachter

My heart aches today as we mourn the loss of a dear friend, colleague, and Presidential Counselor at The National WWII Museum, Marc Pachter. He passed away at the age of 80. Marc commemorated his 80th birthday with a yearlong celebration filled with travels to his favorite haunts around the world. He visited his favorite people and cultural hotspots in Asia, Europe, South America, and the United States. We had the pleasure of hosting Marc in November 2023 for the Grand Opening of our Liberation Pavilion. He joined our riveting symposium, organized by the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, to discuss his vital role in building America’s National WWII Museum. I could not fathom that this would be the last time I would see my friend.

As soon as I heard the news of Marc’s passing, I reached out to his son Adam, who said, “The universe sent many signs and signals to me that this was his time.” I felt some of those same signals when I last saw Marc in November. I deeply regret that I did not pay closer attention to my intuition at the time, but he still had his usual aura of positivity. Marc, of course, talked with me about his future plans and his excitement over his next venture to Southeast Asia. 

Marc was a close friend and mentor to me from the museum world. We first met in 2001 when he came to the then National D-Day Museum’s Grand Opening of our D-Days in the Pacific gallery. Marc came to the Museum on a goodwill mission to examine how we told the story of the hundreds of Pacific invasions during World War II. The self-proclaimed “Nick Mueller expert” quickly fell in love with the Museum and its mission. He inquired soon after his visit about joining our Board of Trustees, to which I enthusiastically agreed. How lucky we were back then to have the Director of the National Portrait Gallery in our corner cannot be understated. 

Marc admiring an exhibit in our D-Day Invasion of Normandy Gallery

Marc admiring an exhibit in our D-Day Invasion of Normandy Gallery, 2011.

A talent in the museum world such as Marc comes along only once in a generation. His passion for history, art, and culture were unmatched, and his exuberance was highly infectious. He easily shared his joy, intellect, and curiosity with the individuals and institutions that engaged in any form of creative undertaking. The discipline did not matter; if it was his domain in the art world or that of others in history museums, travel, or education, Marc provided insight that made us all better. The National WWII Museum is better for having been under Marc’s wing for so long, and he will be deeply missed.

After his term as a Trustee, Marc joined the Presidential Counselors, a Museum advisory board of historians, museum professionals, and film producers, and used his innovative spirit to lead the Museum’s future education and preservation undertakings. After joining the Counselors in 2006, Marc was one of the first in the group who helped recruit several bright lights to our table to share their advice with our Museum team. During the course of life, we seldom meet people who give more than they get or need, but Marc was one of them. I feel as though I have lost a brother, and certainly a doppelgänger. Marc always looked for innovation over the furthest horizon. He beckoned us to look back to the evolution of museums over the past two centuries to help us imagine where we may be in the next one. We always felt that we ate the leaves off each other’s trees. I will miss him so.

Marc (center right) and his cohorts on the Presidential Counselors

Marc (center right) and his cohorts on the Presidential Counselors, 2008.

Marc’s enthusiastic personality had a deep and quiet side, one who observed everything around him. When he spoke, we all listened. He never boasted of his enormous achievements at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery or the times he served as Interim Director of the American History Museum, where he led selection teams to find new directors, all while designing new exhibits for multiple museums. He always had that “I absolutely had to meet him” atmosphere about him. 

Marc gazing up at the Canopy of Peace during the Liberation Pavilion Grand Opening

Marc gazing up at the Canopy of Peace during the Liberation Pavilion Grand Opening on November 3, 2023. Photo Courtesy of Frank Aymami

We have all lost a good friend, but his great spirit and memory remains. Marc Pachter had a love for humanity in all forms, and he blessed us all. He will be whispering good thoughts into my mind, a gift he gave to all who knew him well.

Marc Pachter helped nourish this institution from birth through maturity, and a just recognition is due.

Godspeed, Marc. You left us all better human beings.