Tony Zeiss, who led Central Piedmont Community College for 24 years, is leaving his top post at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington to return to Charlotte.
Zeiss became executive director of the then-unfinished museum just after retiring from CPCC in December 2016. The 430,000-square foot museum, a short walk from the U.S. Capitol, opened to the public in November 2017.
Zeiss has overseen a staff of 175 full-time staffers, 50 part-timers and 300 volunteers and docents.
Reached Thursday, Zeiss, now 72, said it was his decision to leave after 15 months on the job and that he and wife Beth are looking forward to coming back to Charlotte.
"My goal was to get the museum open and running smoothly," he told the Observer. "We did it and it's time to come home."
On Thursday, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who chairs the Bible museum board, released a statement thanking Zeiss and his wife "for their tremendous efforts . . . during this crucial opening period" and wished them well "as as they embark on their next adventure."
Zeiss declined to use the word retirement for his next chapter in life. He said he preferred "going in new directions."
He still sits on a few boards in Charlotte, and said he will devote more time to them. They include the Charlotte regional board for Novant Hospitals; the John M. Belk Foundation, which awards grants for higher education; and the Trail of History, which plans to build six new statues.
Zeiss said he also plans to write another book, this one about what he called spiritual laws. "Most people navigate through life understanding physical laws," he said. "But you have to mine the spiritual laws to find them. Like 'We reap what we sow.'"
During a visit to Charlotte late last year, Zeiss described his job at the museum this way to the Observer: "We hire a lot of really good people and we get them trained. Then we focus on operating the museum so that it's the most incredible experience that a visitor could ever have in a museum."
But Zeiss also indicated in a speech during that December visit that he and his wife missed Charlotte and would return. "Our hearts and our home are still in Charlotte," he told a Christian group gathered at Myers Park United Methodist Church, "and we'll be back."
The Bible museum, which has attracted 400,000 visitors since its November opening, has grand exhibits on the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and more.
One of the most popular features, Zeiss said last year, was a recreated 1st century village of Nazareth, the place where Jesus grew up, complete with a synagogue, olive press and ancient houses. Historical interpreters in period dress speak to tourists about what they're seeing.
North Carolina-born evangelist Billy Graham, who died last month at age 99, is included in the museum's "Bible in America" exhibit.
Among the visitors Zeiss met with: The Israeli ambassador to the United States and a group of Roman Catholic nuns.
Zeiss said he was pleased that the Bible museum, which hopes to draw 1.6 million visitors during its first full year, has been getting higher ratings from tourists than some other museums in Washington.
But the long-time president of CPCC made it clear he and his wife "are excited about coming back to Charlotte and getting back into the community, and in our church (Church of Christ Church at Gold Hill Road) and do more things historical."
The couple is also planning their first vacations in three years -- a Zeiss family reunion in Germany and a Baltic cruise.
His last work day at the museum is April 24.
His new prayer, Zeiss joked, is: "Lord, whatever you want us to do, great, but please don't make it full time."