Friday, July 18, 2008

Paul Byard

Part of my early morning ritual is to check the obituaries in the New York Times. All too often these days I see a familiar name. And so it was this morning when I read, “Paul Byard, 68, Dies; Architect Renovated Landmarks.”

My thoughts went back to more than 30 years ago when Paul and I were colleagues at the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC). Paul was a UDC lawyer; I was Executive Assistant to UDC’s President, Ed Logue.

In 1972, a small group of us went on a work trip to Europe. To be more accurate, I’d call it a UDC-sponsored trip, not really work. Or to be really straight, let’s just say it was a boondoggle. Our stated purpose and rationale was to visit and learn about housing developments and new towns in several countries. In fact it was an acknowledgement and thank you from the boss.

Our itinerary included England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Soviet Union. One night in Moscow we went to the circus and returned to the hotel a little before 9. We wanted something to eat so we stopped at the restaurant. The sign on the door said they were open until 9:30. When we asked for a table a large woman in a white uniform sternly said, “No food. Nyet. Clos-ed.” We pointed out that the sign said they were open. Again, “No food. Nyet. Clos-ed.”

We persisted, but to no avail. At this point my friend Paul Byard had had it. This was our fourth day in the Soviet Union and a series of unpleasantries that had accumulated now overflowed into outrage. To get the full impact of the moment you had to know Paul. He was an elegant gentleman. Raised in a proper northeast elite environment, he never raised his voice. He always reminded me of a young Bill Buckley, brilliant, well tailored, almost like someone from the 19th century. His obituary says he was “unfailingly dapper, with a broad chin perpetually set at a jaunty angle and a patrician mid-Atlantic accent.”

He was a product of Yale College, Cambridge University and Harvard Law School. Then, in his mid-30’s Paul changed course and went to Columbia’s School of Architecture to pursue his real passion. It is no surprise that he became a successful and respected architect. He headed up both his own firm and the historic preservation program at Columbia.

Paul moved close to the woman in the white uniform, drew himself up to his full height of 6’3” or so, leaned down into her face and said, “You are the most thoroughly disagreeable people I’ve ever met. Now, we want to eat. Give us a table.”

She might not have understood all his words, but she got the message. “Vodka. We serve vodka.”

“Fine,” he answered. “Vodka.”

“And orange juice,” she added.

“Good, vodka and orange juice,” he said.

“And caviar.”

“Perfect. Vodka, orange juice, and caviar,” he echoed.

We’d given in to all her demands. Poor little chubby lady in white. She was left with no options and led us to a table. In the end she brought us some other food as well. We got fed, but it was a challenge. Thanks to Paul, we were up to the challenge.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Sandra said...

I thought I was leaving a comment before -- but I must not have realized what the icons meant -- so
I'm trying again to see if I can get it right.
But as I said in what must have come to you as an email, I love this story. And you do tell it so well.... whether it is in writing or in conversation mode.
Your hunny bunny.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Byard Family; The Architectural League of New York; The Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Platt Byard Dovell White, and The New York Landmarks Conservancy

invite you to

a memorial celebration of the life of

PAUL SPENCER BYARD

Architect, Educator, Lawyer, New Yorker

Date: September 15, 2008
Time: 4:00 pm

Location: St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University

reception to follow

St Paul’s Chapel is on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University; main gate at 116th Street and Broadway

7:28 PM  

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