Wednesday, November 6, 2019

After Three Decades, an Ode to Joe

On April 16, 2001, Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) curator Joe Judge (center), along with (from left) HRNM Director Becky Dove and HRNM Exhibits Specialist Marta Nelson celebrate the opening of USS Wisconsin (BB 64) as a public attraction at Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, which is also home to HRNM. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)
By John Pentangelo
Director, Hampton Roads Naval Museum

It was with heavy hearts that we bade farewell to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s MAINSTAY Joe Judge on October 31, the mood lightened by the astounding World Series win the night before by his beloved Washington Nationals.

HRNM Curator Joe Judge (M.C. Farrington)

For thirty years, HRNM’s curator and deputy director graced us all with his intelligence, dedication, leadership, knowledge, wisdom, and humor. Since 1990, HRNM has grown from a small Department of Defense museum into the nexus of naval history education in the entire region. Joe’s enormous role in this stunning transformation is pure fact.

In 1990, HRNM consisted of three paid staff members and no volunteers. Almost immediately upon Joe’s arrival, the William & Mary grad set to work rewriting the main exhibits and preparing for the museum’s relocation from Pennsylvania House aboard Naval Station Norfolk to the Norfolk City-owned Nauticus downtown. In 1993, Joe was instrumental in the Navy’s acceptance of priceless artifacts illegally removed from the Civil War-era wrecks of USS Cumberland and CSS Florida.

The museum staff appears just in front of Pennsylvania House on Naval Station Norfolk just prior to closing that location in December 1993 and moving to Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, where HRNM reopened in June 1994.  Curator Joe Judge stands at upper right with Lt. j.g. Rob Haas, temporarily assigned to the staff by the base commander.  New director Elizabeth "Becky" Dove is at lower left, sitting next to Administrative Specialist Ofelia Elbo. (Courtesy of Joe Judge)
From 1998 to 2009, Joe assisted with the planning, management, and interpretation of the historic battleship Wisconsin (BB 64). It swiftly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Virginia, hosting over 400,000 people in 2001 alone. He curated the new visitor orientation exhibit known as “The Wisky Walk” to introduce visitors to the battleship’s service to the country.

HRNM Curator Joe Judge discusses the transport of a de-militarized AIM-9 Sidewinder with museum registrar Michael V. Taylor.  Once a part of the museum's Cold War gallery, the missile is now on display as a part of The Ten-Thousand-Day War at Sea: The U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file
The other exhibits he has curated over the years have helped connect the American people to the Navy and educated Sailors about their history in meaningful ways. These include Nelson: the Man (1998); To My Loving Mother: Postcards from the Early 1900s; Without Us, They Don’t Fly (1996); The Sailor’s Friend: Animals and the U.S. Navy (1997); A Humanitarian Symbol: The U.S. Navy on the African Station; Cuba Libre!: The Spanish-American War in the Caribbean (1998); Pax Americana: The United States Navy in an Era of Violent Peace (1999); Picture Perfect: The U.S. Navy in Panoramic Photographs (2006); and the nationally-recognized Modern Terror on the High Seas (2009).

The museum gallery as it appeared when Pax Americana: The U.S. Navy in an Era of Violent Peace opened in 1999. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)
His work on the large-scale exhibitions 1907: The Jamestown Exhibition and the Launching of the New Steel Navy (2007) and The Ten-Thousand-Day War at Sea: The U.S. Navy in Vietnam (2019) made tremendous contributions to advancing the museum’s mission. Somehow he managed to find time to care for the museum’s artifact collections and a staff that includes fifteen paid professionals and 237 volunteers!
HRNM Curator Joe Judge works with Registrar Katherine Renfrew in moving the flag of USS Congress in the museum's Civil War gallery. (M.C. Farrington)
As my predecessor Becky Dove observed, Joe “is the glue that holds our institution together.”

Fair winds and following seas, Joe. It is up to all of us to stand the watch now!

Editor's Note: Mr. Pentangelo's article originally appeared in the November issue of The Scuttlebutt, the HRNM volunteer newsletter (Volume 2, Issue 9)

No comments: