Reflections on A Legacy of Preservation in North Carolina

National Trust for Historic Preservation
By Myrick Howard

In 2023 Myrick Howard received the highest honor in preservation, the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award.

Forty-eight years ago, I was a graduate student sitting in the audience at my first National Trust for Historic Preservation meeting. I was a quiet, gay, working-class kid—not exactly the norm in Mobile, Alabama. But I found preservationists to be a welcoming bunch of souls.

Through the years, I have been mentored by several great preservation leaders who helped me find my place. Jim Gray, a gentleman with years of preservation experience, hired me straight out of law school at age 25. A month later he retired, setting the stage for me to become the executive director of Preservation North Carolina (PNC). Jim continued to mentor me for years after he retired.

Our life stories couldn’t have been more different. His father ran a huge tobacco company and major bank. Jim’s cousin, Gordon Gray, was one of the founders of the National Trust. On the other hand, my father was a mechanist in a cigarette factory. My mother was school secretary. My family didn’t flee to the suburbs. We stayed put in the bungalow my grandfather built.

Our different backgrounds didn’t matter. Jim and I both shared a passion for place…and the diverse people whose stories they told. We had common ground.

Another mentor was Bob Stipe, a lawyer, writer and educator whose course got me interested in preservation. With Bob’s encouragement, I developed a passion for revolving funds.

Preservation as Property Work

During my career, PNC focused like a laser beam on preservation as property work. Real estate is the name of the game. We bought and sold hundreds of endangered properties and protected hundreds more with easements.

For the last 35 years, I’ve also taught Bob’s course and watched the careers of my own former students. For example, Andrew Stewart’s master’s project in 2006 was to conceptualize and advocate for an enhanced tax credit for the renovation of vacant industrial buildings.

Shortly after he graduated, Andrew got to watch from the legislative gallery as his bill was enacted. It has since generated more than $2.5 billion of historic rehab—yes, billion. The credit is still in place and attracting new investment, years after the pilot project first passed. Not bad for a student project!