Profile written and provided courtesy Nowell Briscoe ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
IN THE “GREER MANNER”
While his parents were noted for their community endeavors in Monroe,
Michael Greer went a step further. He had the distinction of being known in the
New York Times and Atlanta papers as well as his hometown paper.
He was as well known in New York, Washington and California society
circles as he was in Monroe. He left his hometown to achieve great success and
acclaim as an internationally known interior decorator and designer but not
under the name he was born with.
Joseph Cay Greer, Jr. was born in Monroe on September 19, 1917 to Bessie
Moore and Joseph Cay Greer but had his name legally changed to Joseph Michael
Greer later in life as his prominence rose in the field of interior design.
As a young boy growing up in a boarding house surrounded by people from
all walks of life, it is easy to see where he developed his charm and ease
around people. His penchant for
entertaining at lavish parties and soirees possibly came from being amidst those
early gatherings in his parent’s boarding house.
From an interview with a reporter in 1969 about growing up in a small
town Michael replied, “I enjoyed growing up in Monroe.
It was a nice, quiet town. I
have always been fascinated by the way people live and I began early on to
observe the way things were done in the homes in Monroe.”
Michael Greer graduated from Monroe High School, attended Emory-at-Oxford
and transferred to Furman University where he graduated in 1939.
Leaving Furman, he entered the University of North Carolina to do
graduate work. Speaking to another
reporter reflecting on his years at Furman he recalled: “Originally I wanted
to be an architect, but was poor in math so I took a course in interior design
to be close to a girl I was dating. I
was the first boy ever to take such a course on the girl’s campus.”
During his sophomore year he studied interior design under Catherine
Calhoun. After becoming her student,
Calhoun saw in Michael raw, untapped talent waiting to bloom.
Charles Sapp Funderburk, a fellow student who became a close friend, went
on to become a benefactor and major supporter of Furman.
As a tribute to his contributions to Furman, Michael was asked to design
and furnish a public reception room in McAllister Hall, which he happily agreed
to do. Before graduating from Furman
he redecorated the house of his fraternity, the Kappa Alpha House.
Wishing to leave a lasting monument to his artistry at the university, he
designed and created the Greer Memorial Fountain as a tribute to his parents,
which was dedicated on October 3, 1963. Made
of bronze and marble, the fountain continues to be in use today.
Completing his studies at UNC, Michael was drafted into the Air Force in
September of 1941. He rose in the
ranks from private to major of the military personnel during the first half of
his four and a half year stint in China and India.
Leaving the service he enrolled in the Parsons School of Design and the
New York School of Design.
During the Korean War he was recalled to active duty again serving a year
in Greenland and ended up in service at Fort Bragg. While there he took a
correspondence course in interior design, carefully hiding his notebooks and
papers from his barracks buddies under a false bottom in his foot locker.
During time spent in India and China he took time to study and learn the
rich heritage and furnishings of these countries. During his career he used a
great number of oriental pieces in his designs.
A man of firm convictions who never missed an opportunity to educate
those around him on decorating, a typical Greer comment on Chinese porcelain
goes like this: “I like Chinese porcelain vases for lamps.
One of my pet peeves is to hear anyone use the word ‘china’ in
reference to an article because China is a place!”
Returning back to Monroe for a short time after his military obligations
were completed and having received his credentials from his correspondence
course, he visited with family and friends before moving to New York where he
joined the oldest design firm in the country, Nancy McClelland, Inc. and
remained there for eleven years before opening his own company, Michael Greer
Interiors at 75 East 56th Street.
In an interview for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution Sunday Magazine
section in the 60’s, Michael was asked about his earliest interests in the
design field to which he responded: “One of the first persons to encourage me
to enter the field was Mrs. Clifford Walker of Monroe, whose husband was a
former governor. One of my earliest
decorating jobs was for my aunt, Mrs. John T. Stowers, whose husband was a
prominent Monroe businessman.” When
Mrs. Stowers died, she possessed a large number of antique heirlooms, many of
which came from her nephew’s suggestions and as gifts from him.
Another Monroe home he decorated was that of his close friend, Mrs. Henry
Tichenor along with the Atlanta home of his brother, Tom Greer.
Michael was one of the founders and an early president of the National
Society of Interior Decorators. His
appreciation of American antiques gained him an invitation to decorate rooms in
the White House during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Loving the society atmosphere, he often surrounded himself with
celebrities who often times fought with each other wanting to be the first to
capture his expertise in their homes. Michael
told another reporter, “I love to entertain, especially for people of
accomplishment.” It was from these
dinner parties and gatherings he hosted in his New York apartments that provided
him the clients who wanted their homes to reflect “The Greer Look”.
Books were a particular passion of his and he read as often as his busy
schedule permitted. The
Monroe-Walton County Library was the recipient of many books in memory of his
parents during his life. When the
library was housed in the old post office building, now the Monroe Art Guild, a
large number of books given to the library by Michael were displayed in
appreciation of his generosity.
Possessing a fertile and active imagination, much of it gained from what
he read, He was often in demand as a lecturer and his audiences were delighted
with his flawless, undeviating taste as he peppered his talks with decorating
tips, wit and humor. Always one to
speak his mind no matter what the occasion, he once talked of the strict way he
ran his design firm. “If you come to see Michael Greer, you SEE Michael
Greer” he blasted once after losing a client who came to see him and left in a
huff because an assistant waited on her.
In the late 60’s to help ease his demanding lecture schedule, he wrote,
“Inside Design”, to showcase his knowledge and appreciation in the field of
interior design. Having a strongly
held, almost empirical opinion on just about everything, he generously sprinkled
his thoughts and opinions among the pages of the book, as some of the following
“Too many flowers in a room imply the presence of a corpse and should
be avoided at all costs, unless of course, a corpse IS present.”
“Without a border on a rug, you don’t have a rug, but a piece of
cloth lying there, like a towel.”
“In today’s world when everyone knows what time it is there is no
excuse for visible clocks unless they help to ornament the room in which they
The lavish and society studded life of Michael Greer came to a shocking
and brutal end in April,1976, when he was found murdered in his apartment on an
iron bed once belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte.
As in life, his death made headlines around the globe.
His business manager was charged with the murder and spent many years in
Michael returned to his beloved Monroe for the final time where funeral
services were held at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and his ashes interred here
in the family plot. Because of the nature and brutality of his death, his
brother decided against having a marker indicate his burial site.
Since I attended the graveside service, I can tell you exactly where his
ashes rest….right here!
There are still people in Monroe who remember Michael Greer as an
elegant, sophisticated, outspoken Southern gentleman whose talent as a designer
and decorator knew no equal. His
unique knowledge and expertise brought fame and honor to Monroe and to those
friends and associates who wanted their homes and businesses to be “Grand in
the Greer Manner.”