architect Leslie Boney Jr. builds friendships
the same way he builds schools with passion and
By Phil Kirk
The term southern gentleman fits
renowned Wilmington architect Leslie Boney Jr. to a tee.
Others have used the words modesty and
grace. Not only is he polite to everyone he
meets, but he also goes the extra mile to be helpful. One
hardly ever sees Boney at a public gathering without a
camera in his hand. Then a few days later, notes and
pictures arrive in the mail from Boney to surprised
participants at the various events.
He writes personal letters on every subject imaginable
nearly every day of his life. Some go to lifelong
friends. Others go to acquaintances, and still others to
people he has never met. We get so much mail every
day, the Wilmington architect says. When you
see a personal letter, it means something. On a recent
night, I thought about three people who needed a positive
word, so I wrote to each. One was a contemporary of
Boney's who's suffering from prostate cancer. Another has
Alzheimer's, and the third had suffered a stroke.
Boney often uses his unique sense of humor to aid someone
who is suffering. Writing is becoming a lost
art, says Boney, who turned 80 in January.
Not only are we losing the art of expressing our
ideas in writing, but the techniques of writing bridges
gaps between people.
He blames part of the loss of writing skills and
personal-touch letters on computers. Learning to
write by hand is disappearing, he says. Boney seems
to look for unique ways to please people. Recently, a
friend mentioned to him that he was a graduate of a new
high school in Rowan County nearly 40 years ago. Shortly
thereafter, Boney surprised that person by sending him
the original cover of the architectural drawings for that
He relates well to both adults and children. A family
from Raleigh spent a week at Boney's beloved Wrightsville
Beach last summer. Boney and his wife, Lillian, prepared
dinner and served it at a beach club. The next day, he
sent T-shirts from his architectural firm, soft drinks,
and passes to use at another beach club. That type of
personal contact and sincere interest in people has made
Boney a much-loved, admired and respected man.
He also has a keen memory, perhaps aided by his constant
note-taking during conversations with about everybody he
meets. He recalls hearing an especially meaningful sermon
on grief and bereavement from Sam Houck, a Presbyterian
minister, many years ago. A decade after hearing the
sermon, he wrote Rev. Houck and asked for a copy. While
he didn't have an exact copy, the minister reconstructed
some of his ideas and sent them to Boney, who has since
shared the thoughts with more than 100 people. He has
kept meticulous notes in a small day-timer for the past
40 years. He keeps up with where he stays (and its cost);
names, including spouses; phone numbers; and other
What factors have shaped the life of the native of
Wallace? Family is paramount in influencing Boney's
entire life, and he is well known for his attention to
many details large and small in his family.
His father, Leslie, was born in Wallace in 1880. He was
one of six children and went to a one-teacher school. He
and a sister were the only two of the Boney children who
went to college. The elder Boney earned a textile degree
from N.C. State University in 1903 and was offered a job
at Cone Mills. Instead, he decided to take a draftsman's
job in an architect's office in Greensboro. He later
worked for architectural firms in Wilmington, Goldsboro,
and Florence, S.C.
The current Boney firm was begun in 1922 after his
original partner, James F. Goss, died. Leslie Jr.'s
mother was Mary Lily Hussey, who was born into a
merchant's family in Duplin County. His dad was 37 when
he married and Leslie Jr. was 34 when he married.
Mother was a great spirit. She was witty and wrote
great poetry, Boney says. She was a teacher
in Swansboro and she loved to raise orchids. That
appears to be where he got his knack of writing, his keen
sense of humor, his love of education and his
appreciation of the beauty of flowers.
With a mother and father whom he deeply loved and
respected, Boney took his time in finding the right
one with whom to spend the rest of his life. He met
Lillian in 1954 at a dancing class in Wilmington.
She was not only pretty, but a good dancer,
too, he says with a gleam in his eyes. She
was also intellectually stimulating. She has a good mind,
is a lot smarter than I am, and she remembers everything.
She can tell me what we had for supper 10 years
ago. The Boneys married after dating for five years
and their happy union has produced two daughters and a
son, who in turn have given the Wilmington couple six
Conversations with Boney on any of the numerous subjects
on which he is qualified to discuss almost always return
to talk of his family. For example, in this interview, he
wanted to be sure Lillian's most recent honor of being
selected as UNC Wilmington's Distinguished Citizen for
her many lasting contributions to the community was
Their first daughter, Emmett Hargrove Bellamy Boney, is
an attorney specializing in mediation in Raleigh. She
attended Pine Manor College in Boston and graduated from
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her
interest in law may have been inherited from her mother's
father a lawyer, state senator, and father of the
Ports bill that created the prosperous
Wilmington port. She's married to Hubert Haywood III, an
internist, and they have two children, Lilly and Hubert
The second daughter is Mary Grist Bellamy Boney, a Duke
undergrad and also a UNC law school graduate. She is an
attorney in Washington, D.C., who specializes in
intellectual property issues. She has represented the
U.S. State Department in international conferences, and
her parents went to Fukvoka, Japan, last year to hear her
presentation. She lives in Alexandria, Va., and has two
children, Mary Catsby and James D. Denison IV.
The third Boney is Leslie III, who is well-known in
Raleigh circles as a former TV newsman and as a key
player in the Hunt administration who has led special
projects on welfare-to-work, rural economic issues and
volunteer programs. He is married to the former Margaret
(Ret) Autry, and they have twins Grace Autry and Leslie
IV, who were born on April 26.
Boney offers this advice on raising children: You
have to love and support them. You have to give them the
opportunity to be who they are and who they want to be.
And you try to be as supportive as possible.
Brother Charlie says, His children are outstanding
young adults, attorneys, and public servants.
While the older Boney professes no disappointment that
none of his children became architects, that profession
has been one he has loved in every respect. Becoming an
architect just seemed a natural way of life,
he says. I had seen my father working with people
and building things. I really never knew much else as a
boy. I suppose my father thought I would become an
The younger Boney briefly considered going to Davidson
because he liked what he saw there on a visit to a
Presbyterian church meeting. N.C. State's strong
architectural program won out, however. He admits to
having an advantage in his field because of the work of
his father. I started off with some advantage since
my father was an architect. I inherited his name. That's
something special, and I'm very proud of it.
Family tradition is a hallmark of Boney Architects. Eight
family members have combined their skills to offer
architectural services since the early 1900s. Three sons
of Leslie and Mary Boney were major partners in the firm.
William J. Boney died in 1993, but Charles H. Boney is
still active, along with Leslie Jr. Sue Boney Ives, their
sister, serves as corporate secretary. They have another
sister, Mary Boney Sheats, whom Leslie calls the
scholar in the family.
He is a very good architect in every respect,
Charlie Boney says. He's a dedicated leader in our
profession and he is uncompromising in his pursuit for
excellence in design. I have been very proud as his
brother to walk with him through 50 years of
collaboration in work and indeed play as my
tennis doubles partner every Saturday for years.
(Leslie was captain of the tennis team at N.C. State.)
Charlie says his brother has been his mentor in all areas
of his life a teacher, a great strength in
my decision making, a constant companion.
Paul Davis Boney is the CEO of the firm, which employs 70
people at offices in Wilmington, Raleigh and Charlotte.
The Boney firm is best known for its 1,500 educational
projects, which are spread in 70 of North Carolina's 100
counties. I have also tried to bridge the gap
between school superintendents and architects,
Boney says. For example, in about 1960, we
established an annual school planning conference to bring
the two groups together.
Eddie Anderson, the director of facility planning for the
New Hanover County Schools, says Boney has a
sincere and unsurpassed interest in the education of all
children. He is a pioneer in school architecture and
continues to lead his profession in the area of education
and educational facilities. In Wilmington, you would only
need to visit our schools to immediately recognize the
impact he has on education in our community.
The architecture profession has changed dramatically
during Boney's career. When I came out of N.C.
State, I could do everything that was connected with the
design of a building, Boney says. I could
write specifications for every aspect of the building
electrical, plumbing, heating everything
about the structure. He adds in his typical sense
of humor, Of course there was no air conditioning
back then so I can't do that. Now, he points out
that architects most often specialize in one narrow
field. That along with the use of computers in drawing
plans are the two biggest changes in the profession.
Boney also notes tremendous changes in the whole
electronic field in schools, plus an increase in the
flexibility of designs. You want to be able to make
changes within the schools in the future that are not
even contemplated when they are designed. The Davis
Library at UNC, one of Boney's favorite projects, is an
example. It's a very large building it has
over 500 closed carrels, he says. We don't
know what the future will bring to the way students
study. Vertical shafts have been provided at the columns,
and the heating and air conditioning is more
sophisticated. The library is the Boney firm's
largest project with more than 10 acres of floor space.
He worked with Dr. James F. Govan, who was the university
librarian at that time. My relationship with Mr.
Boney was very comfortable, says Govan, who is
retired and living in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was
well informed and skilled in keeping abreast of his
profession. I am proud of our work together. It was one
of the highlights of my career.
Boney uses his experiences in the changing field of
architecture to plug one of his favorite passions
a good public education for everyone. For
example, he says, school janitors in the
early days needed to basically know how to sweep and fire
the furnace. As a practical matter, no longer can we hire
Boney is an unabashed admirer of Gov. Jim Hunt, a fellow
N.C. State graduate. I think Jim Hunt has created a
solid base of general interest in public education. He
has given us a vision that has led to accomplishments we
could never have dreamed of years ago. He points
out the successes of Smart Start and improved teacher
salaries. The entire education reform movement is
trying to recreate the image and respect teachers used to
enjoy, he says. In the early part of the
century, the teachers were the most highly respected
people in the community, along with the ministers. I have
a feeling we're on the way to restoring this
He also loves his alma mater. N.C. State has been
very good to me, he says. It gave me the
basis for a very good professional education and has
provided me with opportunities to return the favor by
helping the university. Boney was placed on the
university's search committee for a new chancellor when
Dr. Carey Bostian expressed a desire to return to the
classroom. Dr. John Caldwell was hired and he
brought the golden age to N.C. State.
Boney says each chancellor has brought special talents to
the university's top administrative post. I like
Marye Anne Fox (current chancellor at NCSU), he
says. She's a hard-working person, and she's not
resting on her laurels. She has high ambitions for State,
and she will get us there.
Boney's friends are as plentiful as the plaudits they
send his way. He is a scholar, a writer, and North
Carolina's foremost architect of educational facilities,
but the distinguished gentleman from Wilmington is an
even greater person, says Dr. Jim Sims, the retired
superintendent of the Anson County Schools.
William Wadsworth once said, The best portion of a
good man's life are his little, nameless, unremembered
acts of kindness and love. For Leslie Boney Jr.,
generosity, concern and compassion are the cornerstone of
his life. He is that rare combination of remarkable
ability, philanthropy and genuine humility. The active
Boney says he has no plans to slow down. As long as
I feel productive and I'm making a contribution, I will
continue, he says. A lot of what I contribute
to the firm is intangible.
COPYRIGHTEED MATERIAL. This story first appeared
in the October 2000 issue of the North Carolina magazine.
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