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While Jay Hood’s name isn’t prominently displayed, the Kinston native’s architectural influence is undeniable throughout the city. The Boykin Center, the pavilion at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, various BB&T branches, offices around Wilson and even some private homes are all projects that he helped make a reality.
“He made doing work on these older buildings much easier for his clients because he really knew the existing building code very well and was creative in solutions to redevelopment challenges,” said Kimberly Van Dyk, downtown development director. “He left his mark in Wilson by the many buildings he helped renovate and the many people he guided through the renovation and historic preservation process. Jay played a big role in the revitalization we now see happening in historic downtown Wilson.”
In recent months, Hood had a stroke and was hospitalized. Fellow architect Jay Horton said the 66-year-old man continued to sketch various projects and work with Mark Hargett in his downtown office to ensure his absence didn’t hold up progress.
Cancer had weakened his heart, and he passed away on Nov. 21. His friend and client Johnny Hackney recalled talking to Hood the week before he died.
“Despite being in a hospital bed in the Chapel Hill ICU, he was upbeat and positive as ever. I almost dreaded calling him because I was not sure I would know what to say. I was glad I did as we had a great conversation and talked about old times,” Hackney said. “He kept telling me, ‘Johnny, it’s been a great ride.’ I knew what he meant, but I didn’t want to accept what he was saying.”
Hackney first met Hood back in the 1980s when both served on the board for the Heart of Downtown Wilson Associates — a predecessor to several current downtown revitalization efforts.
“We were both young and eager to see the downtown begin the revitalization process,” he said, noting neither realized how long the downtown turnaround would take. “Jay was hardworking and didn’t mind giving his time to the community to make things better. I think he kept the commitment and ethic all the way to the end of his life.”
Kevin O’Brien, Wilson’s inspection manager, said the city was among several North Carolina cities selected for a pilot rehabilitation code program, and Hood was among the first architects to embrace the changes. The duo often had discussions about the intent and compliance of the code to actualize various redevelopment projects.
“Working with Jay was always a learning experience,” O’Brien said. “He was full of knowledge and didn’t mind sharing.”
When Horton was studying to become a landscape architect in the mid-1990s, Hood gave the Morehead City man his first design job.
“He sat me at a work station with AutoCAD. He saw me hunting and pecking a bit and realized quickly I didn’t know how to navigate it,” Horton recalled. “He gave me a few commands to get me started, and we were off to the races. That was the start of a great friendship.”
Horton said Hood had been working to find a way to collaborate with Hargett and Hood’s business partner, Tilghman Herring. While Hood passed away before it could become a reality, the remaining three are committed to realizing Hood’s vision.
“Jay was an architectural genius in my opinion, and I think a lot of others would share that opinion,” Horton said. “He was old-school. He was traditional, but he’d probably be mad if I said that because he just thought outside the box.
“He was probably one of the most creative architects and designers I’ve had the honor to know. There are not many architects that are artists, but he had it all.”
Kathy Bethune, Preservation of Wilson’s executive director, said her organization was just one of many local philanthropic organizations that benefited from Hood’s generous spirit.
“For me and my work with downtown development since 2000, I remember working with Jay so many times, but cutting a check for his services only happened once — and that was simply because we had received a grant, which provided the funds,” Bethune said. “Jay was totally in the moment and stopped everything to give his full attention. Whatever the project was at the moment, he totally immersed himself in it and made you think it was the most important work he would do.”
Hackney recently had enlisted Hood’s help for a new downtown redevelopment project, adding the man known for his smile and suspenders was excited to get to work.
“Jay’s style was adaptable to what the customer wanted and needed,” Hackney said. “He was good at turning ideas and concepts into drawings and then structures.”
Hood had worked with Hackney for a variety of personal business and civic projects through the years. About two years ago, he had Hood design a porch that was open and looked like it was original to the house.
“He nailed it, and I couldn’t be happier. Now when I sit on my porch on a fall or spring or summer evening, I can be reminded of all the good things Jay did for me, for our community and for many others,” Hackney said. “It was always fun to work with Jay and see an idea go from just a concept all the way to a completed project. Jay’s life was a life well lived, it just was not long enough.”