Johnny Wasson was an integral part of the city of Greenville’s spectacular growth and transformation over the past three decades. Born in Greenville in 1951, Wasson began his career with the city in 1981 as a mechanical inspector, and for 32 years served Greenville in a variety of roles, including plans examiner and chief of inspections. He died in June at 65.
“John helped shape a lot of downtown Greenville that he doesn’t get credit for,” said Joe Pazdan, managing principal of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architects in Greenville. “John was a behind-the-scenes guy, and was very impactful. He had a tremendously collaborative approach to working with developers and designers, and wanted what was best for the city.”
“Johnny was very proud of the city,” recalled Ellen Wasson, Johnny Wasson’s wife of 45 years. “He had contact with most every building there.”
An Inclusive Approach
As a building codes expert, Wasson was responsible for ensuring growth happened safely, and that buildings were built or redeveloped according to code. He supported the goals set by Greenville leaders for the city’s development.
Colleagues remember Wasson as a creative, collaborative problem solver, not a dry, by-the-book enforcer.
“He understood his role was much more than just enforcing building codes,” said Pazdan. “He had a vision for creating an inclusive development process that would reach the goals the city’s leaders set.”
“One of the things he always said about work and life was, ‘Everything is not always black and white,’” Ellen said. “‘Sometimes you have to see the gray.’”
Wasson’s great legacy, though, may have been in his mentoring and collaboration.
“I had just opened my architectural practice and was new to Greenville 20 years ago,” said Rick Bynum of Bynum Architecture in Greenville. “Johnny was so kind, helpful, patient, and informative. No question was too dumb or naive.”
“When a new code came out around 1999, Johnny’s approach to learning it was inclusive,” said Lisa Lanni, principal and community studio director at McMillan Pazdan Smith. “He told me we were learning it together, and we could discuss projects and how the new code worked to arrive at the best solution. He could have been a know-it-all, but he was inclusive. I’ve always felt he was a mentor to me.”
Service and Leadership
Lanni first served with Wasson on the Code Appeals Board, which he led at the time. Wasson had a long history of such service, active in the Upper State Code Enforcement Association; the South Carolina Plumbing, Gas, and Mechanical Association; the Building Officials Association of South Carolina; the International Code Council Region VIII Chapter; and the Southern Building Codes Congress International.
“He always gave his time generously,” Lanni said. “You never felt like he was rushing you out of his office. He was always learning and always teaching. He loved what he got to do for a career, the city he was part of, and the people he worked around every day.”
For all of Wasson’s emphasis on mentoring and collaboration, life safety was his primary focus. Wasson “wanted to collaborate with anyone and everyone, regardless of their role in a project, as long as the goal was to improve life safety for the residents of our city,” said Lanni. “He was incredibly friendly — he genuinely wanted to help people. He simply had a great personality. You looked forward to going to see him.”
‘He Had Love for Everyone’
Work was a big part of Wasson’s life, but not the sum of it, friends and colleagues remember. He gave in other areas as well. An active Hejaz Shriner, Wasson was past master of Taylors Masonic Lodge 345. He was an avid golfer and a member of Fox Run Country Club.
Most importantly, though, Wasson was a loving husband and a fast friend, remembered his wife Ellen. “Some knew him as John, and some as Johnny, but everyone knew him as a friend,” she said. “He treated everyone fairly and tried to see the best in everyone.”
“He was a pleasure to work for and with, gaining the respect of everyone in the design and construction industry who he assisted in the performance of his job,” said Buddy Skinner, current building codes administrator for the City of Greenville. “Johnny had a way with people that very few could match. When he walked into a room, people began to smile because everyone knew that he would do or say something that would make everyone in the room laugh. While his humor made him a joy to be around, his work ethic and dedication to the city made him the model employee. He led by example and would never ask of his staff something that he would not do himself.”
“Johnny always had love for everyone. He greeted you with a smile on his face and a kind tale,” said Ellen Wasson. “We had a wonderful life together.”