Max Isley
1929 - 2021
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DURHAM - Long-time Durham resident and architect Max Isley, 91, died Wednesday, February 17. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Jane Skinner Isley, and their four sons and their families: Alexander and Veronica: children Owen, Ruby and Ella of Ridgefield, CT; Malcolm and Milly: children Max and Emily of Greenville, SC; Nathan: children Ben, Sierra and Llia of Durham; Duncan and Vicki and son Angus of Durham, and several nieces and nephews.

He was born June 8, 1929 in Caswell County, NC, and grew up in Burlington where he attended public schools. He attended the University of Oklahoma for two years where he first studied architecture. After serving two years as a Special Agent for the Department of the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, he earned a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from the School of Design at NC State in 1957.

He was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany where he met his future wife, Jane Skinner from Electra, Texas. She was working as a journalist for a US Armed Forces publication and they both had offices in the Palace of Justice where the WWII War Trials were held.

He was on the architectural faculty at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana for one year before attending Harvard University where he received a Master of Architecture Degree from the Graduate School of Design in 1959. Upon returning to North Carolina, he worked for several years for John D. Latimer's architecture firm in Durham. He entered into a partnership with George Smart and Charlie Woodall in 1969. In 1979 he started his own firm, Isley Architects, in Durham, where he was principal until retiring in 2004.

Although the majority of his work was in Durham and North Carolina, his success in designing highly sophisticated facilities resulted in his being hired for work in Virginia, Massachusetts and Canada. He particularly enjoyed working for Duke University, its Health System, and the Department of Athletics. During many years of providing architectural services to the Duke community, he came into contact with many people who became friends.

Since 1974 he was a committee member for St. Mary's Chapel, an historic landmark in Orange County. His pro-bono involvement came after a plea for help to the architectural community from the chapel committee members who wanted to restore the severely deteriorated and unusable chapel. He continued to provide architectural services for the chapel for decades.

His favorite activity, other than work, was fly-fishing for trout in Montana's streams and rivers. His favorite dry fly was a #14 Royal Wulff. His favorite sounds were rain on a tin roof, classical music, the singing of a Hardy reel, his wife's banging pots and pans in the kitchen, the joyous noises of his sons at play, the roar of a Harley engine, a newborn baby's cry, and the words: "you've got the job."

Burial will be in the new section of the St. Mary's Chapel cemetery in Orange County during a private ceremony.

Memorials may be made to The St. Mary's Restoration Fund, c/o Wayne Walker, Treasurer, P.O. Box 1454, Hillsborough, NC 27278.

The family is being assisted by Clements Funeral & Cremation Services, Inc. in Durham. Online condolences can be made at

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Published in on Feb. 21, 2021.
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
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February 21, 2021
I worked with Max on the Joseph Bryan Lab Building at Duke. He was a true professional who wanted to design a building that was functional,” pleasing to the eye” and buildable. He was a true gentleman also.
Max always said we were related by marriage.
Dean Moser
Dean Moser
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