Described by those who knew him as a "Renaissance man," architect and urban designer Helm Roberts died Friday after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. It was his 80th birthday.
Mr. Roberts died in his home on New Street in Lexington. He designed the home and lived there with his wife, Jacqueline.
"He was determined to get this far," she said. "He wanted to live to that 80th birthday so badly, and he made it."
Mr. Roberts, a former Navy pilot, is perhaps best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort, which he designed in the 1980s.
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The memorial, a masterpiece of design and mathematics, honors the 125,000 Kentuckians who served in Vietnam, and it makes an individual tribute each year to the 1,103 who died there. On sunny days, a 14.6-foot-tall column casts a shadow across a vast granite plaza. The shadow's tip touches each fallen soldier's name on the anniversary of the day he died.
Mr. Roberts was also a key player in several less-visible projects that have shaped Lexington since the 1960s and 1970s, said Bruce and John Roberts, his sons.
He worked on the 1960s master plan that removed the railroad tracks from downtown Lexington.
He also designed homes, retirement villages and more than 2,500 apartments, and he created master plans for subdivisions and more than 30 military bases.
He was a champion of preserving Lexington's green space, doing much of the hands-on plotting of Lexington's urban services boundary.
"Just about every time the boundary was challenged by developers, he went down to City Hall fighting for it," John Roberts said.
More of his work can be seen in the Gratz Park archway, the unique design of the Paul Miller Ford building on East New Circle Road and the award-winning Circle of Friends at Camp McKee.
Mr. Roberts donated his body to the University of Kentucky's body bequeathal program.
A memorial service open to the public will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Second Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Main Street and Ransom.