When the boy was nine, his mother cashed some stocks in the Great Depression and took him on a steamship cruise around the world.
As a young man, he helped his mother, Juliet Goddard Brewer, save Henry Clay's law office from the wrecker's ball. A governor she had telephoned also helped, the state trooper arriving with an injunction against the bulldozer — just in time.
The boy was an awed observer as she lured wealthy women friends into organizing first the Bluegrass Trust for preservation and then a board to reclaim the ruined buildings that were Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.
Deploring the threats to and actual destruction of so much heritage, she sighed, "I have a mountain to climb." But the son was the scout who told her that Earl Wallace, an oil executive and father of a boyhood friend, was retiring home from Ohio.
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Wallace became the knight who led the restoration. Long after his mother's death, the son as a trustee managed 3,000 acres of farmland at Shaker Village, now Kentucky's "Colonial Williamsburg."
He was his father's boy, too, working summers on a Mercer County farm, learning to repair a car before he could drive, raising rabbits to sell, carrying a paper route, set free with another lad for two weeks of floating down the Kentucky River in a canoe, ending at a Frankfort hotel for a night of hot showers and swigs of bourbon.
The father, Lawrence Condit Brewer, "with a voice like warm honey" was famous for years of daily radio noon broadcasts for the UK Extension Service.
The son of this "power couple" of the last century was Robert McAfee Brewer, who died last week at 86 after a civic life in town and country almost unrivaled here for selflessness and accomplishment.
He never ran for office. "I might lose my independence, my mother cautioned," he said. But his civic activities were wide-ranging: leadership of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, KET, Centre College, the Lexington School, Cardinal Hill and Good Samaritan hospitals, the Lexington Cemetery, Girl and Boy Scouts, Kentucky Horse Park and the airport, the Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Presbyterian church.
He never took a course in agriculture — indeed, he graduated cum laude from Princeton with a thesis on the poet Robert Burns — but farming was in his DNA. He was so influential that Progressive Farmer magazine once named him Kentucky's Man of the Year in service to agriculture.
Descended from pioneer families in Mercer County, he married Kathy Alexander, heir to a historic Woodford County farm along with two cousins who married Kentucky governors. He managed family farms in Mercer and Woodford counties and a grain mill business in Lexington after returning from service with the Navy in the Korean War, in which he was decorated for bravery. Remaining in the Naval Reserve, other awards followed in a long career from which he finally retired one rank below admiral.
Brewer's life connected four centuries of Kentucky history: fast horses, brave men and beautiful women (at least in myth and memory) living on estates carved from the woodlands with the help of slaves before the Civil War.
In the last months of a terminal illness, he shared his memories, including about the final cause: He and civic activist Isabel Yates raised $500,000 for a museum at the old courthouse. A true son of the Bluegrass, he died caring for its history and hoping for its future.
Veteran journalist Al Smith served with Robert Brewer as a trustee of Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.