Remembering Greenville visionary Tommy Wyche

Tommy Wyche, who passed away Jan. 23, 2015, received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

From The Greenville News:

Story by Tonya Maxwell

Tommy WycheWyche, an attorney and lifelong Greenville resident, died Friday afternoon after failing health. He was 88.

He had not only the ability to envision grand projects — some that might have seemed foolhardy to others at the time — but the tenacity to execute a plan that could take decades to see though, family and friends remembered.

“Dad was a quiet, brilliant, behind-the-scenes advocate for the city of Greenville and the South Carolina mountains,” said son Brad Wyche, executive director of Upstate Forever. “He didn’t care about the recognition or the spotlight. What he wanted was to make the city a better place and to protect as many acres in the mountains as possible, and he was spectacularly successful in achieving those goals.”

An avid hiker and photographer, Wyche was an activist drawn to nature and worked to protect beauty he saw as endangered, said Cary Hall an attorney at the Wyche firm, where Wyche spent his career.

He saw potential, too, in downtown Greenville in the early 1980s, when a trip to the mall was a better destination than a walk on Main Street.

“He looked at the right bank of the Reedy River and he could see that as being a world-class development, when most people could only see falling-down buildings and bunch of kudzu,” Hall said.

Wyche worked with then-Mayor Max Heller, business leader Buck Mickel and others to launch initiatives that reshaped downtown Greenville.

He helped bring the Hyatt Regency to Main Street, envisioned Falls Park and RiverPlace developments, helped push the city to narrow Main Street from four lanes to two, install new sidewalks and trees and construct a walking bridge across the Reedy River near the historic structure now named the Wyche Pavilion.

After earning an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, followed by a law degree, Wyche took a job at the law firm where his father worked, later taking the helm himself.

In the 1960s, he invested in a location that few saw as valuable, said Ted Gentry, chair of the executive committee for the firm.

“It’s not his most major accomplishment, but I’m sitting here looking at the Falls of Reedy River,” Gentry said. “When he sited the firm here in the ’60s, it was not a sane thing to do. There was nothing special about that site, and now it’s the heart of the new Greenville.”

After a trip to California, Wyche became determined to save the Blue Ridge Escarpment from the development that plagued hills around Los Angeles, beginning a 40-year conservation journey.

Jocassee Gorges, Caesars Head State Park, Jones Gap State Park, the Greenville Watershed and hundreds of privately conserved acres “wouldn’t exist today without dad’s vision, commitment and hard work,” Brad Wyche told The News in 2013 after his father was honored on Green Day, the Greenville Drive baseball team’s annual celebration of the city.

In the 1970s, the elder Wyche founded Naturaland Trust, a conservation organization dedicated to protecting natural beauty in the Upstate.

“He had a unique combination of a grand vision and also the willingness and ability to undertake the real world pragmatism needed to make that vision a reality,” said Frank Holleman, president of Naturaland Trust. “Many people have vision, but very few people can take a vision and convert it into a reality that changes the world.”

Greenville Mayor Knox White said any praise he could give to Wyche wouldn’t be hyperbole. The mayor said a month didn’t go by that he didn’t seek Wyche’s counsel.

“Tommy Wyche was the most remarkable Greenvillian I’ve ever known,” White said. “His vision for the city and love of the mountains made us what we are today.”

Wyche staked his business in downtown Greenville, believing in its future along the Reedy River, White said.

“He saw in our downtown and our river what its potential could be decades before it would be realized,” White said.

“Dad was a true renaissance man who did so many things so well—in law, conservation, downtown redevelopment, piano, tennis, photography, snow skiing, scuba diving, beekeeping, and on and on,” Brad Wyche said Friday. “The scope of his talents was absolutely breathtaking.”

The visitation will be held at Genevieve’s at the Peace Center on Monday from 2 to 5 p.m., and the memorial service will be held Tuesday at the Gunter Theatre at 2 p.m.