Herbert Pope McKim, FAIA, died March 3, 2010 at the age of 82.
Herb and Frank I. Ballard were my father’s business partners for more than 40 years in an architectural practice, Ballard, McKim & Sawyer. They built it in Wilmington, N.C., in the 1950s as they resumed their lives after World War II.
Dad—Robert W. Sawyer—always said his professors, in what was then known as the N.C. State College Design School, had the most intense class of undergraduates in 1946 that you could ever imagine: High school boys whose ‘tween-school-and-college summer had stretched into years fighting in a global war. When Frank, Herb and Bob finally sat back down in their classrooms at N.C. State they knew how to focus on a mission, and they did.
As I came up a toddler, Herb, Frank and dad’s lives had turned from waging war to raising families. Herb and Frank and their loved ones were part of my family life. The partners sailed their little boat of an architectural partnership together — and also literally sailed their big old wooden scow together as a racing crew of young professionals, when I was an admiring tyke. Their partnership was a foundation for us all, even as they and their practice matured over the next four decades and they made their separate spaces within it.
But they also made room in the practice for me and all of the other offspring, letting us make a little money as summer, weekend, or after-school employees. I was a blueprint "print boy," a 16-year-old "architectural photographer," as-built measurer and mis-measurer of things for preliminary renovation plans, and on and on. That's why some of the old photos of the early firm’s signature projects are mine: Herb hired me to take them. Some were taken by his son George, whose work became quite good as he honed his skills. Herb gave us the office camera to use and enabled us to buy better and better tools as our skills improved. He coached us and critiqued our work.
Herb was last of the trio. It makes me tear up to see him go. And it makes my mind rush with memories and vignettes of how all of our lives have intertwined through so many years, and even now, do still. I was with my wife and daughters visiting the beach near Wilmington last summer and when we ran into Herb’s wife, Catherine, she immediately invited us all to dinner, 21 years after we moved away from that town.
I don’t know if all architectural partnerships beget families, but that one sure did. And it was begat by some others. Herbert P. McKim, who always identified himself with the microscopic North Carolina town of Ahoskie, also liked to think Charles F. McKim, of the legendary New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White as a relation, although Catherine says he was never able to establish the link. But inspirationally, Herb was carrying on in the practice of design.
Frank I. Ballard had a beautiful hand with a pen and ended his war in Europe by bicycling through France and filling notebooks with exquisite sketches of ancient structures. I don’t know where he came by it, but he could draw masterfully.
My own father, robbed of a dreamed-of career as a fighter pilot by color blindness, redirected to architecture after the war on the basis of a demobilization aptitude test that pointed him that way; although it was not a surprise. He grew up with a hammer in his hand, backing his contractor grandfather — and his grandmother who took over the crew when the old man fell ill just as they landed a big, and much needed hotel demolition job during the Depression.
Dad had been the skinny kid sent climbing way up to the top of swaying frames during barn raisings in Wisconsin to pin the ridge purlins and stabilize the massive frames. He knew how to raise a barn on the prairie, but he was also inspired by the work of another local boy, Frank Lloyd Wright. I think he had dreamed of being a designer for a long time.
BM&S was our extended family, and our cousins were the partners’ other architect-friends and classmates who had graduated together and gone their separate ways, only to cross and re-cross paths like boats tacking in a race, before handing off tillers to their children to sail on.
My brother John, architect and sailor, carries on, as does his son Jack, architect and sailor. Both Frank Jr. and his brother Thomas took up the sliderule and pencil, and became architects as well. Herb Jr. became an engineer, and an outstanding one. Others in the families laid their hands on the wheel at times in their own lives and helped steer the course, watch on and watch off.
Herb, Frank and Dad were all good men, and alike in important ways. I will say this of my friend Herbert Pope McKim, but in truth, it applies to them all:
Herb was a humanitarian, a creator, and thoughtful man; but he was also a man of decision. He would walk up to responsibility and asked himself, “What should I do? What is the right thing?” and then do that.
He lived strong.