J. Stuart Franklin, Jr.
Class of 1950, BS
The engineering prowess of J. Stuart Franklin, Jr., remains visible today on many of Virginia’s finest buildings and structures. Among them are downtown Roanoke’s First National Exchange Bank building and Roanoke Memorial Hospital and its surrounding facilities. Stu’s imprint came from his partnership in one of Roanoke, Virginia’s oldest architectural and engineering firms, today known as SFCS Inc.
Stu, a 1950 civil engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, was born in Richmond, Virginia, but his entire professional career was associated with Roanoke. He married his wife Margaret May of Roanoke two years before his graduation from Virginia Tech, and as she laughingly relates their story, she got her soon-to-be-husband to propose marriage as well as his first job in a single, forthright sentence.
The episode happened at the Roanoke Airport where Margaret worked for American Airlines. Her friendship with Stu’s sister, Rebecca, had led to their dating for two years. So when Stu was with Margaret at the airport one day in 1948, and they happened to run into Beaufort Eubank of Eubank-Caldwell, (an architectural-engineering company founded in 1920 in Roanoke and the predecessor to SFCS Inc.) she seized the opportunity.
As Margaret recalls, Eubank asked when the two “love birds” would be getting married. She did not miss a beat and responded, “As soon as you give him a job.” Eubank complied with the request, and Stu, a rising junior at Virginia Tech, got his job as a structural designer at Eubank-Caldwell and Margaret became Mrs. Franklin.
When Stu died in 1999, Reverend Nelson Harris of Roanoke spoke at the eulogy. Among his tributes he said, “Perhaps Stu’s greatest enterprise, one where his skill and artistry were most evident and appreciated, was his 51-year honeymoon with Margaret. They took on a house on Woodland Drive and made it a home. Nestled amongst azaleas and rhododendrons and bird feeders, Stu found solace in the simple beauties of nature and in the beauty of his kindred spirit, Margaret. In a marriage that spanned a half-century, they traveled the world, shared joys, halved sorrows, and found the mutual support each needed in their many endeavors. It was, says Margaret, ‘a love affair.’ And it will remain so.”
Stu’s rise to prominence as a civic and business leader in Virginia came from humble beginnings. When Stu finished high school, he spent his first year as an estimator for Virginia Insulation Co., of Richmond. He moved to Roanoke in 1940 to become a draftsman for the Appalachian Electric Power Co. Another year went by, and he became a field engineer for Mason & Hanger of Dublin, Virginia. When World War II erupted, Stu spent three and a half years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He became a staff sergeant and was stationed in North Africa and Hawaii. Returning from the war, Stu decided to get his bachelor’s degree in engineering even though he had been involved in the profession for a number of years.
While at Virginia Tech, he became active in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), serving as both treasurer and vice-president of the student chapter. He continued his membership throughout his professional life, later as President of the Roanoke Branch, and then in a series of leadership positions at the statewide level. ASCE eventually named him a Fellow of the society.
Stu stayed at Eubank and Caldwell for five years, and then left for a similar position with the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel Corporation. It had offices in both Roanoke and Chicago, and the one year they spent in Chicago was “too long” as Margaret recalls. They hastened back to southwest Virginia where Stu was hired as Vice President and General Manager of Cates Building Specialties, Inc., in 1958. In 1961, Stu returned to Eubank’s firm, only this time as a Partner. He remained in this role until his retirement in 1980 when the firm had morphed into Sherertz, Franklin, Crawford, Shaffner, Inc. Pat Shaffner is a 1961 civil engineering graduate of Virginia Tech. Ron Crawford was a graduate of Tech’s College of Architecture.
Shaffner had first met Stu in 1950. “He was my Sunday School teacher,” Shaffner says. Their paths continued to cross when Shaffner studied civil engineering at Virginia Tech because Stu was the liaison to the Virginia Tech chapter of ASCE. Although Shaffner started at another Roanoke engineering firm, he moved to Eubank, Caldwell, Dobbins, Sherertz & Franklin in 1968 when Stu offered him a position with the ultimate opportunity of becoming a partner.
“Stu was a very honest, very loyal person who always kept his word,” Shaffner recalls. “He befriended me in Sunday School and was then my friend for life. Two years after I joined the firm, I was made a partner. I learned the practical side of engineering from Stu. He was a mentor to me and I credit any successes I had to his mentoring.” Shaffner also recalls that Stu was very fond of traveling, and was an amateur photographer. As Margaret says, “We traveled around the world together, each year taking a substantial trip. We never just beached it. But I was always in the wrong shoes,” she laughs as she points to a picture of her walking on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece in a pair of high heels.
However, Margaret’s attire fit the couple’s Virginian roots. “Stu was a true Southern gentleman. He always had a coat and tie on, even after retirement,” Shaffner says. “The well-respected Roanoke businessman ate every day at the Jefferson Club where they even named one of their luncheon entrees after him.”
Stu’s professional and civic affiliations included his membership in the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers (VSPE) as a Director and as a Vice President. He was a member of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and held the positions of Director, Vice President and President of the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce. He was the Director, Vice President, and President of the Better Business Bureau of Western Virginia. He also served as President of the Miss Virginia Pageant. “He liked those girls,” Margaret laughs.
He was also a past Lt. Governor of the Kiwanis Club, and a member of the Masons, the Elks, Hunting Hills Country Club, the Shenandoah Club, the Jefferson Club, and the Rhododendron Society. At Virginia Heights Baptist Church, Stu served as a Sunday School teacher of senior high boys and was an ordained deacon. “Stu was kind and gentle, but ambitious,” Margaret says.
Stu would be proud of SFCS Inc. today. It provides professional services in the disciplines of architecture, engineering, planning, and interior design from its offices in Roanoke and in Charlotte, North Carolina. Specializing in the design of senior living, education, health care, corporate, and government facilities, its staff now numbers more than 60.
Class of: 1950
Year Inducted into Academy: 2005