Ky. Voices: Webb taught others how to build, think big

Donald Webb, a Lexington developer, died Friday at age 74.
Donald Webb, a Lexington developer, died Friday at age 74. ALL

It is true that Don Webb remade the skyline of Lexington, but he also shaped the lives of a collection of younger people who learned about civic engagement through his leadership. I was one of them.

In the early 1980s, at the still-impressionable age of 30, I was chairman of the Lextran board when Webb asked to present his proposal for a free downtown circulator for uniquely appealing trolleys, which he said would help create "Lexington's signature."

Webb had somehow discovered a federal source of funds to purchase the trolleys and wanted a commitment from us for operating costs.

There were plenty of doubters, but with his characteristic economy of words, he laid out his vision of a revitalized, high-energy city center, encouraged by the essential ingredient of convenient mobility. He drew us out of the world of buses and into the futuristic world of community development.

The board agreed, and I accompanied him on a trip to Kissimmee, Fla., to inspect the trolleys being made for us.

Within that experience, he taught me one of the most important lessons of my young adulthood: that a single individual with a big idea and a lot of energy could make a real difference in this city (a con dition I attribute partly to the manageable, human-scale size of Lexington).

Webb believed things were possible. He could have written the phrase "if you build it, they will come." He took big risks. They didn't always work out.

But one idea and one project at a time, he and his brother, Dudley, were the main catalysts for the truly remarkable transformation of our city that has occurred during the 40 years of my adult lifetime — a transformation we have not fully internalized, but one that is strikingly evident from pictures taken in the 1970s.

Don Webb was not alone in making this happen. Many others contributed to this transformation; some of them, like me, having been infected by his contagious enthusiasm.

The transformation has remade our downtown into the livable, clean, safe, prosperous and beautiful place that it is, and it has encouraged a high standard of living enjoyed by the Lexington community.

I tip my hat to him.

Bradford L. Cowgill is president of SmartClaim, a Lexington law firm.