By: Jack Santos, CHMM Board of Directors Chair

Jack Santos


For those of you I haven’t met, I was recently elected the Board Chairperson of the Custom House Maritime Museum.  It is quite an honor to help lead such an important Newburyport institution.

I joined the museum as a director in 2019, at almost the same time we welcomed our then new Executive Director Joan Whitlow.   Joan came to us from the MIT Museum, and boy what a force of nature she has been these past three years!  When she was hired, Joan was clear that we could only expect a three-year commitment, as she transitioned to retirement – and (potentially) more travel with her husband Scott.

Joan Whitlow, Outgoing Executive Director

It’s really been an exciting three years.  Since the Museum opened its doors almost 50 years ago, have we ever seen this amount of change to the exhibits and programs?  Joan brought her expertise in collections and exhibits and literally changed every room in the building.  It’s cleaner, more modern, more engaging, and closer to the standards of an accredited museum.  One need look no further than the Moseley Gallery to really see the impact, and (of course) the recently opened “Legendary Newburyporters” exhibit is a testament to Joan’s tenacity and commitment – it’s been a huge hit and is breaking all exhibit attendance records!

And the events!  Nary a weekend goes by when something isn’t happening at the museum – whether its on the lawn or inside.  Lectures, classes, parties, weddings.  The building and grounds are ALIVE!  During Joan’s tenure we established a new Newburyport tradition “The Maritime Tree”, and even during COVID (Yes! This all happened during a PANDEMIC!) we never skipped a beat with our popular members First Friday members event, by pivoting to Zoom. 

That’s why the Custom House Maritime Museum has become a “Destination within a Destination” – a proud part of the Newburyport community and a draw to visitors from around the country. And we have Joan (and Scott, her husband supporting her behind the scenes) to thank in a large part for all the great things that have happened the past 3 years. As Joan is proud to say, we consistently opened our doors during scheduled hours throughout the pandemic – quite a feat!

Well, three years went by in an eye-blink.  Joan and Scott are planning for their new life on the road, and we at the museum, over the last three months, have been interviewing for a new person to lead the organization (I won’t use the word “replacement” since one can hardly replace Joan.)

Chris Silva, Incoming Executive Director

I am proud to announce our new Executive Director is Chris Silva, and he comes to us with experience at the Harvard Museums, as well as the Boston Athenaeum.  Chris’s expertise in facilities management will come in real handy for our building projects.  He also knows events – Chris has led the Gloucester Harvest Music festival for many years.  Chris  brings to the role energy and new ideas that will build on the last three (and almost 50) years. 

Chris joined us on May 2nd and is working closely with Joan as part of a transition during the first two weeks of May.  He’ll be Joan’s shadow during that time. Beginning May 16, Joan steps back to focus on some special wrap-up activities, while Chris takes the helm.  I hope to introduce Chris personally at our May 6 First Friday event.

So, join me in welcoming Chris Silva to his new role in our museum: Welcome Aboard, Chris!

And lets all give Joan Whitlow a grand thank you and sendoff as she starts her new travel life in retirement.  And – oh yeah! – Scott too!  From the Newburyport Maritime Society members, and everyone who has been touched by the museum the past 3 years, Thank You Joan.  

Let me end with this blessing:

May you see the way wherever the journey takes you, sailing safely over rough water
and weathering the waves’ dips and crests.
May you find treasure in Earth’s infinite variety, beauty and surprise.
May you hear the ocean’s music in every shell you hold to your ear.
May your boat fill with insight, laughter, generosity and love as you discover new landscapes and explore the wide expanse of our country.

May you have Fair Winds and Following Seas, Joan and Scott,
and thank you for all you have done for the Newburyport Custom House Maritime Museum.