Photo by Clarissa Villondo
Peter Cressy was the CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) in 2000 when he got a call from a member asking if the association would like to get involved in the restoration of George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon. Cressy, who had been charged with rehabilitating the image of spirits to be on par with that of wine, didn’t hesitate. Turns out members of the association were equally excited about the prospect. “Within a day and a half, I had commitments from all the major companies,” he says.
Cressy’s fundraising success was just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with Mount Vernon. After leaving DISCUS in 2016, he joined the staff of the George Washington Leadership Institute, drawing on more than 35 years of experience. Much of that experience was in the U.S. Navy, including being in charge of all the naval bases in the Mediterranean in support of logistics in Desert Storm. He held key appointments at the State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon, ultimately retiring as a rear admiral. Cressy went on to serve as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and as president of Massachusetts Maritime College before taking the helm at DISCUS.
Cressy eventually raised more than $1.5 million for the distillery’s reconstruction effort—an integral part of Mount Vernon’s story highlighting Washington as an entrepreneur and businessman—but he didn’t stop there. Rallying not just the spirits council but the greater association and government affairs community again in 2001, he worked with Mount Vernon on his vision
for an annual fundraiser. When it was first held, the Spirit of Mount Vernon raised $150,000. Twenty years later,
in 2021, the event drew more than 900 guests and raised more than $940,000; it has become Mount Vernon’s largest annual fundraising event.
Leveraging his extensive personal network, he continues his involvement as the director of executive leadership programs at the Leadership Institute, which teaches leadership, management, and strategy through Washington's example to senior executives and boards of trade associations and corporations. In 2019 alone, the institute hosted 115 groups, generating nearly half a million dollars in program fees for Mount Vernon. “Washington had a great strategic vision, listened well, was open to change, and constantly grew as a leader,” he says. “As a youth he was rash, but he developed remarkable self-control, quiet determination, and optimism, which was so essential for getting through the dark days of the revolution.”
It’s a mission that Cressy is clearly passionate about. “Washington was a living, breathing example of someone who learned leadership and management from the ground up, and so he provides this inspiring set of examples,” he says. “The country, particularly leaders, managers, and executives, are well served by learning more about him.”
And Cressy is more than happy to help. “When I look at where to spend my energy in my old age, this is the perfect place to do it,” he says. “Every day, I have the opportunity to work with extraordinary people and to give back in some small way.”