ST. LOUIS Robert R. Archibald believed that St. Louis was
divided by race, that children should get an excellent education
regardless of their skin color or income level, and that his job as
president of the Missouri History Museum was to connect the
community to the past and help solve such thorny problems.
But for the past three months, Archibald, 64, weathered wearying
criticism for other issues: a soured land deal, his compensation
package and nearly 400 unused vacation days for which he was due a
Tuesday, he resigned under duress. Friday, the museums Board of
Trustees accepted his resignation.
In its wake, leaders from across the city came forward to
describe a man who transformed the museum over a quarter-century at
its helm and volunteered countless hours for civic causes.
Museum Trustee Frank Steeves stood in the buildings expansion
wing on Friday and told reporters they were standing in Archibalds
Archibald, said Steeves, took this museum from a sleepy little
place that didnt really make a difference to a big pillar of the
community. Then he pointed to schoolchildren touring the museum.
This whole group of children that came through, Steeves said,
Now, however, trustees such as Steeves face months of uncertainty
the fallout from controversies that started in September, raising
questions about the museums finances and leadership.
Archibalds last day at the museum is Dec. 31. As part of his
separation deal, he received a six-month, $270,000 consulting
contract, but its unclear how involved hell be in day-to-day
And while his resignation may end debate over his salary and
benefits, critics still insist that oversight of the museum must
A city alderman has not given up plans to hold public hearings,
demand confidential records and even subpoena museum trustees to
appear before him.
And museum leaders must repair an image so damaged that they
expect millions of dollars less in donations next year.
EXPANSION AND SUPPORT
Archibald, a native of Michigans Upper Peninsula, started at the
museum in 1988, just after it became part of the regions Zoo-Museum
District, making it eligible for tax support. It now gets roughly
$10 million a year from a property tax collected in St. Louis city
Within five years, Archibald got the museum accredited by the
American Association of Museums. A year later, in 1994, the
Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded it one of its top
honors, commending it as a model for creating programs that use
history as a context for todays concerns, according to the museum.
He purchased and renovated a 104,000-square-foot research center
on South Skinker Boulevard, raised $20 million for an expansion,
boosted attendance and spearheaded an information technology
renaissance at the museum, which aims to electronically catalog
museum artifacts and make the archives interactive.
The History Museum and its renaissance under his tenure has been
just spectacular, said Robbyn Wahby, a senior staffer and education
aide to Mayor Francis Slay.
In October, the American Association for State and Local History,
which Archibald once chaired, gave him its Award of Distinction in
recognition of his service to historical work.
I have to tell you, hes a rock star, said Terry Davis, president
and CEO of the association. Hes at the top of the list.
Over the years, Archibald also served on the boards of major
civic organizations pushing race equity, Forest Park upkeep,
government reform, the environment and new trails. He was president
of a board promoting a trolley line from the Delmar Loop to the
When civic concern about the St. Louis Public Schools was
building, Archibald ran for the School Board, winning a seat and
serving from 1993 to 1997.
Archibalds civic work brought him close to mayors, company
executives and other key officials, including several black leaders. …