John Only Greer, FAIA: 1933–2015

A longtime advocate for and leader of the profession, John Only Greer was born in Henderson, Texas, on October 21, 1933. Upon graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Greer attended Texas A&M University and received his bachelor's in architecture in 1957. After several years in the army, he returned to A&M and earned his Masters. 

Greer went on to serve on the Texas A&M University faculty for 49 years. His ideas for elevating professional practice studies created courses that have become national models, and his work as an administrator pushed the department forward, shaping a leading-edge architectural program that emphasized design, academics, technology and practice equally. Many generations of Aggie architects had the privilege of studying under Greer and counting him as their mentor. He is remembered for the great interest he took in staying in touch with his former students, checking in with them often about how their lives and careers were progressing, and offering his wisdom and encouragement along the way. 

In addition to his contributions through academia, Greer also enjoyed an "almost supernatural status in Texas" for elevating practice and ethics through his role in the passage of the Architects' Practice Act of 1989 and as president of the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners in the 1990s. Greer was president of the Texas Society of Architects in 1988 and the first full-time educator to ever hold that position. He was awarded the Society’s highest honor, the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Honor of Llewellyn W. Pitts, FAIA, in 1995 and received a Presidential Citation from AIA in 1997.

Read the obituary for John Only Greer.

See the history and photos of Greer's life published by Texas A&M University College of Architecture.

 

Tributes

If you are interested in sharing your recollections of John Only Greer on this page, please send them to communications@texasarchitects.org. Memorial contributions may be sent to the John Only Greer Architectural Heritage Professorship through the Texas A&M College of Architecture, or to Hospice Brazos Valley at 502 W. 26th Street, Bryan, Texas 77803.

James R. Nader, FAIA, Nader Design Group: Of course I always knew who he was, but not being directly engaged with the leadership of the Society until about the year 2001, I had not had the opportunity to actually meet him. My first remembrance of being in the presence of this legend, and being acknowledged by him, was the 2005 Board meeting in College Station. We had never been formally introduced, and, although I had seen him at a few previous meetings, I could not imagine any reason for which he would be aware of my existence. I can’t remember the subject of the conversation in which a few of us were engaged, but I do remember hearing him address me for the first time…"Nader,…" That he was aware of and acknowledging my presence caught me completely off guard.

From that point forward it was as if I had been accepted, just as I was, and a friendship blossomed.  My president-elect visit to the Brazos Chapter was the next point at which I was acknowledged by him. My youngest son, then attending TAMU, accompanied me. That I now had some actual blood relationship to an Aggie seemed to remove any lingering doubts of my worthiness with him. Of course it helped that he and Wanda soon met Kay, and we were off to the races!  (That seems to always be my personal advantage!)

Holly Arthur, Assoc. AIA, Clayton & Little Architects: John Only was such a wonderful mentor and man. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have gone abroad to Italy which changed my whole perspective, not only on architecture but on life as well. He had a great demeanor, a sly humor, and showed sincere care towards all his students. He will be missed. Sincerest condolences to the family.

Steve Ellinger, FAIA, CADCO Architects-Engineers: I had the pleasure of serving as Chairman of TBAE immediately following John’s term as Chair. His leadership with Texas Architects and TBAE set a standard for me, as well as all of the other Board members. John and I worked closely together for many years. One of my most prized possessions is one of the original Eames sofas that John had in his office at TAMU. As I recall, Jeff Potter has the other. John also served as on one of my letter writers for my elevation to the College of Fellows this year. I hold John and Wanda in very high regard. He will be missed.  

David Messersmith, FAIA, UT Arlington: I am at a loss for words about a man who, himself, never was.

Charlie Burris, AIA, The Arkitex Studio: My relationship with John Only Greer goes back to when I was in school at A&M, but ironically it was not as professor. I never got to experience him in that role. I clearly recall meeting him one day in his office (as department head) on some personal basis, and we connected immediately. Also, one summer I played fast pitch softball and got to see him in action in his later pitching years. I had heard he was a serious competitor, and that he was!  

One of my greatest professional memories of him was when I was the Brazos Chapter director under his TxA presidency. It was a real privilege to be part of what was accomplished under his leadership and just to see him working for the profession in his way. It was also always wonderful to cross paths with John and Wanda at conventions and Texas Architects gatherings. I have simply not known many people who were so much fun to be around. John and I really became closer as the years went by. My only regret is that I did not take advantage of proximity more often, but that’s always the way we feel when we lose someone so important to our lives.

John had a great impact on so many architecture students and young professionals — too many to count. He was a great friend but also a profound mentor to many. He had a unique and wonderful personality along with a cutting wit, but he was also very kind and showed love to so many of us. Every time I was privileged to go out to dinner or visit with him in some setting such as a chapter meeting, I always came away glad to just know him. He always encouraged and supported me professionally, but I like to think he appreciated me as a person. I certainly looked at him as a kind of father. I overheard so many of his “stories” over the years, amazing stories that all Texas architects would love to hear. He certainly had a full and impacting life.

John Greer was committed to the profession of architecture as much as he was to educating future architects. I consider myself truly blessed to have the relationship with John and his family that I have had, but today I reflect on how much I will miss him and all those wonderful encounters that are now memories. "His Only-ness” was one of a kind, the kind of person we are only singularly blessed to have in our lives. My heart goes out to his family and to all of us who knew him personally….a great loss to each one of us.

Quotes from past students in TxA files: "John's influence created a dynamic format in which the evolution of one's personal path was encouraged by inspiring a sense of confidence and unlimited potential … he has always been an important connection who helped inspire me to seek, understand, and push beyond perceived limitations along this somewhat obscure and satisfying architectural path on which I find myself."

"John defined professional practice, the business of architecture. He made it a profession, not just an art and sciences blend, and certainly not just a job. Through his course work, his extracurricular involvement, and his legislative activity, we had a role model at an early stage in our careers who showed us how we each could contribute."