Landscape architect improved our lives, by design

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 24, 2011 

My generation on Hilton Head Island is not supposed to be passing on to glory just yet, as Perry Wood did on Nov. 17.

He was only 59. When he came to the island in 1975, he took his new University of Georgia degree in landscape architecture to work at Hall's Nursery on a two-lane road we called 278.

Everyone here in those wacky 70s came to have some fun. But Perry Wood was here to make a living. That sets my generation apart. We didn't come to weave the gold into our golden years. We came to work, and we ended up working like rented mules. Hilton Head boomed so fast, it was like we were spinning in dog years: More happened in a year here than six years anywhere else.

Island life suited Perry just fine. He even got married on the beach, near the steam cannon. Cathy Hughes Wood, his sweetheart from their days at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, was a budding young journalist when I met her. She was wise enough to move on to better things, like marketing, and raising their daughter, Alex, as Perry grew his Wood + Partners landscape architecture firm from scratch in 1988 to one with a staff of 45 and offices in Atlanta and Tallahassee, Fla.

Perry learned his craft at the feet of Ed Pinckney, who learned it at the feet of Robert Marvin, who was a soul mate of Charles Fraser, who was surrounded by the brightest design minds in America when he and Hideo Sasaki and partners sketched Sea Pines from a palette of swampy Hilton Head woods.

Perry understood their spirit, and could infuse it into buildings, walkways, vistas, streets, plants and landscapes. His partner, Mark Baker, says they see the world like this: "It's a respect for blending manmade elements into nature. Bring nature forward and set the buildings back."

It's something Perry exported for clients as far away as South America.

He was honored to be named a fellow by the American Society of Landscape Architects at the young age of 52.

We laymen don't really grasp how our lives are improved by landscape architecture, but it is. Perry's life work sends subtle messages to the heart, by design. Certainly, history will show that Beaufort County benefited greatly from it.

The fun in Perry's life often surrounded a Georgia Bulldogs football game. I don't know what it means that legendary Georgia announcer Larry Munson died the same week as Perry, but I hope it means they're in a land where sugar always falls out of the sky.

Perry Wood did our generation proud. I hope future generations will do the same.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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