Forever Duke: In Memoriam

Farewell to a gardener, a lover of literature, a DAA leader, and a trailblazing oil man.
June 6, 2016

A garden of musings and stories

One would be hard-pressed to find a better origin story than the one that led Allen Lacy ’56, Ph.D. ’62 to gardening. “My love affair with horticulture began in the early spring of 1943, on the day I bit Mrs. Leghorn on the ankle,” he wrote in Home Ground, a book of essays.

Mrs. Leghorn was Lacy’s third-grade teacher and, after the bite, his punishment was Saturdays working with a fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Harkey, in her greenhouse and iris fields. “She simply assumed that I had a love for plants, and I believe that it was this assumption, this faith, that brought such love into being,” Lacy wrote.

The experience blossomed into wise, witty, and vivid columns for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and ten books on gardening. Lacey died December 27, 2015, at his home in Linwood, New Jersey. He was eighty.

David Allen Lacy III was born in Dallas. He graduated from Duke with a major in English, attended Vanderbilt University’s divinity school, and then received a doctorate in religion from Duke. He taught at several colleges before becoming a philosophy professor at what is now Stockton University.

He told the blog gardeninacity that in his senior year at Duke he sharpened his writing by taking the “legendary” writing seminar of William Blackburn, a course also taken by William Styron ’47 and Reynolds Price ’55. “At that time, Duke’s Hoof ‘n’ Horn annually put on student-written musical plays, and I was the author of something called Top Secret, which dealt with the confusion that erupted when the U.S. Navy wanted to test atomic weapons on Femina, a Pacific atoll inhabited by feminist colonists,” he said. He also had a one-act play about Mexican bandits that was produced by Carolina Playmakers at UNC.

He yearned to be a novelist, and when that effort was less than successful, his wife, Hella, suggested he write an essay about gardening. After it was published in Horticulture magazine, a Wall Street Journal editor saw it and hired him as a columnist.

In 2001, A Year in Our Gardens was published, a book of letters coauthored by Lacy and Nancy Goodwin ’58, the owner of the acclaimed Montrose Nursery in Hillsborough, North Carolina (and wife of Craufurd Goodwin Ph.D. ’58, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of economics). The two met first through an exchange of letters; he visited the nursery in 1985. “Allen Lacy was a remarkable writer and friend,” she says. “He explored plants in depth honestly and often with humor, and he opened his readers’ eyes to their beauty, their place in gardens, and their history. He was opinionated in the best sense of the word and wrote of his personal experiences with plants—his successes and failures. His breadth of knowledge was extraordinary and his writing beautiful and timeless. He has earned his place as one of Duke’s best writers.”

Besides his wife, Lacy is survived by his sons, Michael and Paul, and by five grandchildren.

A lover of all things literary

In her life, Virginia Price Barber A.M. ’60, Ph.D. ’69 supported many charitable causes. Yet the one she recalled fondly during the final months before she died on February 19, 2016, at age eighty was her annual trip to the New York City post office to collect letters to Santa.

Ginger, as she was known, and her family would purchase, wrap, and send gifts from Santa to unsuspecting families. What also resonates is the idea of Barber collecting letters. Words, literature meant much to her.

For three decades, she was a highly regarded literary agent, focusing mostly on fiction. The authors with whom she worked formed an all-star roster; among them were Anne Rivers Siddons, Peter Mayle, Rosellen Brown, Sue Monk Kidd, Paul Ehrlich, Anita Shreve, and 2013 Nobel laureate Alice Munro.

Barber started achieving early. She was her high school’s valedictorian, then a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College before earning a master’s and Ph.D. at Duke. Her dissertation focused on American poet William Carlos Williams.

She met her husband, Edwin Ford Barber, at Duke. They moved to New York and spent a life devoted to publishing; he was an executive at Harper & Row. They were married fifty-two years.

Barber also was a published author. The Mother Person, published in 1975, was written with Merrill Maguire Skaggs and explores the transformation that happens after women become mothers. She was a founding member of the New York Women’s Media Group and served on the board of New York’s Literacy Partners and Duke’s library advisory board for many years. Perkins houses the Virginia Price and Edwin Ford Barber Writing Center.

In a 2006 piece for the journal Virginia Quarterly Review, Barber wrote an appreciation of Munro and told of her pursuit of the Canadian short-story writer. She first sent Munro a letter asking to represent her and got a polite refusal. Then, she sent Munro a copy of Rosellen Brown’s Autobiography of My Mother, a work that explores a conflict between a daughter and a mother that delves into moral, political, and personal issues. Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women has similar themes. “Alice read the novel, and then wrote me saying that an agent who represents this kind of material was someone she wanted to work with,” Barber wrote. “That was one of the most thrilling moments of my career, and I credit Rosellen regularly.”

Besides her husband, she is survived by her daughters, Anna Barber Luhnow and Genevieve Barber, two grandsons, and her brother, Stuart.

An unforgettable leader

The timing was sadly poignant: Laney Funderburk ’60, who led Duke’s alumni operations for twenty-two years before retiring in 2004, died in mid-April, just as Reunions Weekend was under way.

During Funderburk’s tenure, this magazine was established, replacing a longstanding alumni tabloid; the alumni education and travel program was expanded; class reunions were consolidated and revamped; information-technology initiatives were introduced; and an affinity credit card was put in place to help generate revenue for increased alumni programming.

Also under his leadership, Duke published its first alumni directory, established the Duke University Black Alumni Connection, introduced or revived programs ranging from a new Career Week for students to an annual fall Homecoming Weekend, and promoted recognition of alumni and their children who attend the university.

A native of Maiden, North Carolina, Funderburk worked in the alumni affairs office part time as a student; by the time he graduated, he already was running some of the reunion programs. He then continued to work with alumni affairs for thirteen years, leaving in 1973 to become deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce and, later, special assistant and then chief of staff for Governor James E. Holshouser.

In 1977, he moved to The Duke Endowment, where he directed the charitable foundation’s education division and served as the chief liaison with Duke and other universities. In 1982, he returned to Duke to lead its alumni affairs office through a period of significant expansion.

When announcing his retirement, Funderburk said he could not have imagined a more satisfying career, adding: “I fell in love with Duke as an undergraduate and have been fortunate to meet and interact with countless other Duke alumni and families over several generations. Their active involvement has been a major reason why the university has ascended so rapidly and developed into a university of international distinction.”

Funderburk met his wife, the former Lois Copeland ’62, when they were both Duke students. Their daughter Lisa Carlisle Funderburk Miller ’83 and her husband, Kevin Miller ’81, are both Duke graduates; their son Morris Laney Funderburk III received his M.B.A. from Duke’s Fuqua School in 1998.

Here are some reflections from those who knew Funderburk:

Sterly Wilder ’83, associate vice president and director of alumni affairs:

“Laney was an extraordinary leader of the alumni association, and for generations of alumni, he was the face of Duke. His loyalty and passion for Duke were unfailing and inspiring, and we continue to follow his example in our work today.”

Shep Moyle ’84, current president, Duke Alumni Association:

“I first had the opportunity to meet Laney when I was student-body president my sophomore year, in 1982. I was privileged to watch Laney bring a true-blue Duke spirit to alumni affairs, and to work with him to connect alumni and students with a new career conference, and through his focus on reunions. I was always struck by Laney’s amazing passion for Duke and his belief in connecting with all Duke alumni around the world. This fall, Laney came to our home in Wrightsville Beach and, as always, brought a beaming smile and a love for Duke to our alumni gathering. Laney was inevitably positive and hopeful and believed in all things Duke.”

Barker French ’63, Duke Alumni Association president, 1989-90:

“I spent a fair amount of time with Laney as a board member of the alumni association and during my year as president. The more I saw the inner workings of alumni activities, the more I appreciated how complex it was to satisfy the multiple constituencies: alumni, administrators, staff and faculty members, and students. I always think of Laney’s good sense of humor and his smile when I think back to those years. Laney approached everything with great energy and a positive, can-do attitude.”

R. Ross Harris ’78, M.B.A. ’80, Duke Alumni Association president, 1995-96:

“Laney was born for the role of director of alumni affairs at Duke. All you had to do was mention the name of an alum, and he could tell you where they lived, how many children they had, and the name of their dog. And not just the name of their current dog, but the names of their last three dogs! He didn’t keep this information in his computer or on notecards but, rather, he kept it in his heart. And what a heart he had! No one loved Duke more than Laney, and he showed it to everyone every day.

I sat next to Laney and his beloved wife, Lois, in Indianapolis at the 1991 Final Four, our first national basketball championship. Finally things got quiet enough for the band to play the Alma Mater. I saw that Laney had moved down a few rows to stand closer to the court. I joined him, and we put our arms around each other as we began to sing. Laney had an absolutely beautiful voice. While I can carry a tune myself, I stopped singing just so I could hear him. I’ll never forget how beautiful he sounded, singing the tribute to a place that meant the world to him.”

A take-charge guy

In description after description of Aubrey Kerr McClendon ’81, the same image is conjured. Bigger than life. Mythical. A life force.

McClendon was a passionate man, a trailblazing entrepreneur who, before he died on March 2, 2016, at age fifty-six, had transformed natural-gas production through horizontal drilling, a practice known commonly as fracking or the shale business.

His vigor displayed itself early. A childhood friend told the Oklahoma Gazette that McClendon earned the nickname “head Charger,” referring to his take-charge ways; other friends and college classmates reported that McClendon worked harder than anyone they knew.

At Duke, his major was history (he most enjoyed studying the post-Civil War Reconstruction era), and his minor was accounting. He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He was a member of Duke Outreach, serving as a big brother to the same child for three years. “We’ve learned a lot together—it will be tough to leave him when I graduate,” McClendon told The Chronicle in 1980.

He made himself known. In 1978, when students held a memorial week for Karen Silkwood, the labor-union activist who famously raised concerns about health and safety practices at a nuclear facility, McClendon wrote a letter chastising The Chronicle’s editors for contributing to the “fictionalization of the Silkwood incident.” A year later, marking the fifth anniversary of Silkwood’s death, he wrote a full editorial defending Kerr-McGee, the company that employed her. It was the family business, after all; McClendon’s father worked there for thirty-five years.

After graduation, he took a job as an accountant at his uncle’s firm, Jaytex Oil & Gas Inc., in Oklahoma City, and married Kathleen Upton Byrns ’80. When that business fell victim to the oil bust of the 1980s, he launched his own business. He was twenty-three.

He teamed up with a former competitor, and their Chesapeake Energy Corporation became the biggest company in town since Kerr-McGee. As his prosperity grew, he left his mark on Oklahoma City, helping to develop the waterfront with the Chesapeake Boathouse and the northwest area with a high-end shopping center. He was also part of the ownership group behind the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

He and Kathleen gave generously to Duke as well. They donated more than $16 million, aiding the plaza and the divinity school chapel. Both McClendon Tower in Keohane Quadrangle and the commons in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions bear their names.

Their children came to Duke also. Along with Kathleen, John Connor ’08, Callie ’10, and William Upton ’15 survive him, as do their spouses, his in-laws, his brother, three nieces, a nephew, and his first grandchild, Andrew.