Greer revered as leader, mentor to generations of aspiring architects

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More tributes to Greer at the Texas Society of Architects website.

John Only Greer ’55, a celebrated architectural educator, industry leader and mentor to generations of aspiring Texas A&M architecture students, passed away June 12, 2015. He was 81.

Greer’s stellar career spanned five decades, beginning in 1962 when he took his first teaching post as instructor of architectural practice and management at what was then the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas and is today Texas A&M University. Along the way he worked in private practice, serving 1966 – 71 as principal of Maynard and Greer, a Nacogdoches architecture firm. He also served his profession publicly as president of the Texas Society of Architects, 1988; on the American Institute of Architects’ National Board of Directors, 1992-95; and as chairman of the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners.

“I will always remember John Greer as the quintessential Aggie architect,” said his friend and longtime colleague David G. Woodcock, now a professor emeritus of architecture who retired with Greer in 2011. He was “passionate about his profession and the values it added to society, dedicated to teaching and to the college of which he was so proud,” said Woodcock, “and tireless in ensuring that the history of the college and of the practice of architecture be remembered and preserved.”

After years of collecting artifacts and documenting the history of the Texas A&M College of Architecture, Greer was appointed its archivist and went on to secure a large space in the college’s Technical Reference Center to preserve and showcase his collection.

“He left behind not only a tangible collection of documents and artifacts,” said Paula Bender, the TRC’s coordinator of learning resources, “but also the many stories he shared with us.”

Greer’s passion for preserving the rich history and heritage of the college was impetus for creating the John Only Greer Architectural Heritage Professorship in his honor.

In addition to teaching, practice and professional leadership, Greer lent his able stewardship to administrative duties at the college, where he served as head of the Department of Environmental Design, 1976 – 86, executive associate dean, 1990 – 92, and interim dean from 1991 – 92.

“John ‘The Only’ Greer was an icon in architectural undergraduate education who shaped hundreds of former students in many positive ways, both professionally and on a personal level," said Ward Wells, head of the Department of Architecture at Texas A&M.

Former department head, Phillip J. Tabb, said Greer was “the cornerstone of the department.”

Yet another former head of that department, Julius Gribou, who now serves as executive vice provost at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said Greer was one of the most influential people in his academic career. “I will always remember his friendship, sage advice and unique sense of humor,” he said.

A former classmate who later taught with Greer, Cecil Steward '56, now president/CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, said that Greer brought a "military precision" to the college's research staff and, later, the teaching of professional practice. Steward, like Greer, is a former member of the Texas A&M Corp of Cadets and an Outstanding Alumnus of the college.

A lifetime of passionate teaching garnered Greer a lengthy list of educational awards that included a 1997 AIA Presidential Citation “for outstanding contributions to the profession as a dedicated and inspired educator,” a 1989 Excellence in Architectural Education Award from the Texas Society of Architects, the Silver Medal for distinguished achievement in teaching and service from the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Tau Sigma Delta, and a 1989 Distinguished Achievement in Teaching Award from the Texas A&M Association of Former Students.

Yet as a teacher, Greer’s greatest achievement and most indelible legacy are the many students whose lives he profoundly and positively influenced.

“All of his students were his favorites; he took all of us under his wing,” said Helene Bernhard Little ’80, who credits Greer with her academic success. “He wanted the best for each of us no matter what.”

In a recommendation letter that helped 1982 environmental design graduate Ross Speer get into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Greer described the former student as “cool as the underside of a pillow.”

“Thirty-one years later,” said Speer, “I’m still in the Boston area, the principal and owner of a 35-person architecture firm, happy and thankful for it all. Greer’s small quote on a recommendation letter set it all into motion.”

Greer helped students understand the importance of business to the practice of architecture, recalled Teresa (Davis) Hurd, associate principal and senior vice-president at HKS Inc., who earned bachelor and master’s degrees at Texas A&M in 1982 and 1984. “His lectures, she said, “still guide my decisions today.”

Another of Greer’s former students at HKS, Dayna Finley, said his lessons extended beyond the classroom. “He was an upstanding man and citizen, beloved by his students,” she said. “He taught us the value of remaining consistent, firm and truthful, and he practiced what he preached.”

“He was larger than life and a mentor to me and countless others,” said Kirby M. Keahey, another outstanding alumnus of the College of Architecture and retired senior principal of WHR Architects. “‘Only’ cajoled or threatened all of us to be the best in a challenging profession,” he said.

Greer's wit and wisdom made professional practice classes intersesting and engaging, remembered Elizabeth Price, an architect with Upchurch Architects, Inc. in Brenham "He has been a mentor and a friend that I could rely on for a clear, honest opinion, encouragement, a drink and a hug since my career began. I will miss him." 

John Only Greer was born October 21, 1933 to Dolphus Only Greer and Sarah Flonelle Brison in Henderson, Texas. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas, and earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Texas A&M in 1957.

After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army as First Lieutenant, Greer returned to Texas A&M, earning a Master of Architecture degree in 1964. He joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1962, while completing his graduate studies.

Greer was the first holder of the Wallie E. Scott, Jr. Endowed Professorship of Architectural Practice and Management, which was established in 1989 by Houston-based CRSS Architects, Inc. In 1990, he was elevated to the College of Fellows in the American Institute of Architects, an organization he served in local and national capacities. The first fulltime educator elected president of the Texas Society of Architects, in 1995 Greer earned TSA’s highest honor, the Llewelyn W. Pitts Award, presented for a lifetime of distinguished leadership and dedication in architecture and the community.

Greer was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Brison Greer. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Wanda F. K. Greer; son, Gregg Only Greer and wife Beverly; daughter, Valorie A. Greer; grandchildren, Liam Greer and Benjamin Only Greer; many other family members and BS, the last of a line of beloved felines he coveted throughout his life.

The family has asked that memorial contributions be sent to the John Only Greer Architectural Heritage Professorship through the Texas A&M College of Architecture or Hospice Brazos Valley at 502 W. 26th Street, Bryan, TX 77803.

Anyone wishing to share memories of Greer or send condolences to his family can do so this John Only Greer memorial web page.

posted June 15, 2015