When Buck Mickel died July 23, 1998, Greenvillians reacted with sorrow and disbelief because with him, a part of Greenville surely died, too.
"He was a towering figure in the life and development of the Greenville he loved," said Mayor Knox White.
Dr. John E. Johns, former president of Furman University, said Mickel "was part of that small group that really fought to bring Greenville back from the cardboard and plywood in all those stores downtown."
Also in that small group was former Mayor Max Heller, a collaborator but also a dear friend.
"He was a rare personality," said Heller, who cried when he learned of his friend's death. "He was one of those rare people who, when they walked in the room, you took notice. He exuded friendship. He exuded knowledge. ... Everybody was important to Buck, whether they were bankers or bricklayers."
Beth and Marvin Hambleton, who operated the Red Baron on Main Street for 23 years, said their regular customer convinced them to come downtown when 80 percent of the buildings were vacant.
"I just felt that Buck Mickel was a mover and shaker," Marvin said, "and I thought he really was sincere when he talked about working to revitalize downtown."
Joe Ballew, co-owner of Ballew and Scott Clothiers on North Main, was also won over to help reverse downtown's fading fortunes. "For all that he did for Greenville," Ballew said, "he became an icon, someone that everybody on Main Street knew as a gentleman."
And the revitalization marches on
Virginia Uldrick, director of the Governor's School for the Arts that will open as a year-round campus in 1999, often called on Mickel for advice in the launching of that complex project near County Square.
"He was the most valuable and magnanimous mentor and leader that I've ever known," she said. "He was absolutely a people person who made everyone feel comfortable, no matter the level or status of their lives."
Former Mayor Bill Workman said Mickel's style and tenacity came from his mentor and uncle, Charlie Daniel, who founded Daniel Construction. "He had been challenged coming along with Charlie Daniel, who often said he fired him six times and hired him seven -- thank goodness," Workman said.
The magnitude of Mickel's projects ensured that his influence was felt far outside Greenville.
Gov. David Beasley said, "He helped South Carolina's economy grow to new heights, and his dedication to improving our primary and higher education system hotouched the lives of thousands of people he never even met."
But for at least six people, he was merely Buck-Buck, the granddad who wrote encouraging notes in red ink, the man who took them to Kenya, then shooed them into a tribal dance around the fire.
"He was incredible," said grandson Hal Shaw III with a grin. "If there was ever a perfect role model, it was Buck Mickel."
Deb Richardson-Moore, Scott Wyman, Dale Perry