Batey M. Gresham Jr., cofounder of Nashville-based architect Gresham Smith, former president of the American Institute of Architects and a benefactor who established the first endowed professorship in the Auburn University school of architecture, died Aug. 6 at 88. He is remembered as a talented architect and businessman.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” says Rodney Chester, Gresham Smith CEO, quoting Maya Angelou in remembering Gresham. “There are countless employees and clients who will never forget him.”
Chester, who spent his entire 25-year career with the firm, says he could talk at length about what a great architect and businessman Gresham was, but what really sums up his impact is how he made people feel.
"He's the quintessential Southern gentleman: very friendly, very accommodating," says Steve Kulinski, senior managing director of CBRE's Nashville office.
After graduating from Auburn University in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in architecture, Gresham served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a first lieutenant and captain until 1962. Partnering with fellow architect Fleming "Flem" Smith, the pair founded Gresham Smith in 1967.
In a statement, Smith says he and Gresham took an alternate path in the 1960s, when most architects were solo practitioners. Gresham retired to Auburn in 2013.
"We were soon bringing people into our organization who had skill sets and talents that we didn't have, so we could serve a wider range of clients," he says. "Batey excelled in this search."
Gresham Smith has roughly 1,100 employees in 25 U.S. offices, Chester says. Reporting more than $236 million in 2021 revenue, the firm ranked at No. 84 on ENR's 2022 Top 500 Design Firms ranking.
Former CEO James Bearden, one of the firm's first 100 employees, joined it in the midst of a recession, according to the firm's statement. "I soon learned that Batey had no intention of letting a slow economy hold him back," says Bearden. "He forged relationships on behalf of the firm that continue to benefit us to this day."
Kulinski first met Gresham in 1983, and worked for him for about 20 years, remembering a mentor who taught him how to work a room and how to foster and maintain lasting relationships.
"He would take anybody who showed any kind of inclination to succeed, he would take them under the arm and away you went," he says. "He led me through the whole business development process. He made my career."
Shortly after cofounding his firm, Gresham established a relationship with another new Nashville-based organization, Hospital Corp. of America (HCA). Since then, Gresham Smith has designed the company’s Nashville headquarters and other HCA hospitals across the nation.
A studious person, Gresham quickly became a health-care architect, Chester says. HCA and others became repeat clients due to the trust that Gresham was able to foster.
Chester notes Gresham's work on the Nashville City Center Office Building, which held Gresham Smith's former office location; the first American Airline hub terminal at Nashville International Airport; and a large addition to the Metro Nashville General Hospital.
Gresham kept a strong relationship with his alma mater throughout his life, establishing the university’s first endowed professorship in its School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture in 1999, the Ann and Batey Gresham Endowed Professorship. He earned the Auburn Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, recognizing achievement, personal integrity and service to the university.
"Human beings comprise the foundation of the future of any enterprise," Gresham once wrote, according to the firm's statement.