Faith and good humor complement Harry McCoy's sharp legal mind

By Rosalie E. Leposky

Many successful timeshare projects in the western United States have begun life as a set of legal documents emanating from the adept mind of Utah-based attorney Harry E. McCoy II.

A partner in the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, McCoy manages the real-estate section of its Salt Lake City office.

Gary L. Terry, an attorney and co-founder of the American Resort Development Association, describes McCoy as "one of the finest real-estate and resort-development attorneys in the nation."

Steve D. Peterson, who has been McCoys law partner for 21 years, says that "people come to Harry because he is gregarious and focuses on other people's interests, and because of his extensive knowledge of the resort industry. He understands the business, financial, and marketing sides of the industry and keeps up with its trends. He knows what works from a practical standpoint, not just how to write a legal document." McCoy also is known for his singing talent and ability to tell a story. "Harry has a dry and subtle sense of humor," says his wife, Helen. "He likes to collect jokes and is good at telling them." Less known are the personal and family challenges McCoy has surmounted, and the extent to which he gives of himself on behalf of others.

        

         Harry E. McCoy II

 

A Large Family

The McCoys live in South Jordan, Utah, a small bedroom community 18 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City. They have seven biological children and one African foster child:

More About Bo

Helen and Harry McCoy learned of Bo through their son Tim. Bo had come to the U.S. in the arms of a friend, Syger Hasenberg, a businessman who in 1978 was negotiating gold exports from Guinea on behalf of a Utah gold-importing company. In those days before fax and e-mail, Hasenberg used international cables to communicate with his firm. On one of his visits to the cable office, the cable operator told him about her three-year-old son. Born with a twisted spine and with his right tibia (lower leg bone) bent at almost a 90-degree angle from his knee, Bo had a life expectancy of about five years. He was unable to walk and scooted around packed earthen floors on a small platform, at risk of contracting a variety of earth-borne ailments.

Hasenberg returned to the United States and started raising money from the members of his Mormon ward (congregation). Enough funds were raised to fly him back to Africa so he could bring Bo to Salt Lake City for treatment at Primary Children's Hospital. "For three months after orthopedic surgery, Bo wore a full body cast, and then he required months of physical therapy," McCoy recounts.

Four months after the surgery, Bo went home to the Hasenbergs. Our son Tim, who was then about five years old, came home from pre-school at Cottonwood Elementary School talking about this neat kid who could kick a soccer ball. (Bo then wore lift shoes that came in handy on the soccer field.) Then Helen and I attended a Parade of Homes show in Salt Lake City, and met a family pushing a stroller with a black child. We saw the lift, heard the child's name, and knew it was our son's friend Bo. Later we asked Tim if Bo was black. Tim, with a matter-of-fact look on his face, said yes, Bo was."

After a complete recovery, Bo returned to Africa with a one-inch lift in his right shoe. Bo's father, Abdoulaye Barry, 52, was educated in France and Russia; his mother, Safinatou Barry, 40, is of royal descent. "Her maternal uncle, Elhadj Tchierno Habib Diolo, is a national and tribal religious leader," Bo explains. "Today my mother is the chief of the Matoto city cellular commercial division of the telephone company. My father used to be a journalist. The government says he took early retirement, but he was fired mainly because he was against the president. Now he manages some of my mother's business interests, writes crossword puzzles for the newspapers, and works for the radio and television stations."

Readjustment Problems

Bo's family was well-off by Guinean standards, but he had readjustment problems back home in Africa. "He missed American food, freedom and society,' says McCoy. "Here he easily made friends and was the object of affection. Bo told his mother he wanted to come back to the U.S.

Bo's mother contacted Syger. He told her that he knew someone with seven children, and one more would not make much difference. Then Syger and his wife, Berna, called us. They explained that they were too old to be parents to a small child, and asked if we could help. We agreed. Money was raised a second time for Syger to fly to Africa." Syger discussed Bo's American life with the Barrys, explaining that he would be raised in a Mormon household and have the same opportunities as the McCoy children. Bo's parents agreed, and he joined the McCoys in November of 1982.

"Guinean society is matriarchal and all of our contacts have been with Bo's mother, who speaks some English," McCoy says. "I think her view was that if one of her children was well-educated, he would provide education for his siblings." At the age of 10, in 1987, Bo suffered behavior problems. "A psychiatrist we consulted suggested that Bo was acting out aggression because he felt abandoned by his mother, and was too young to understand what had happened when he was five," McCoy says. "Bo needed to go home and meet his parents and siblings."

Mrs. Barry arranged to fly to Washington D.C., where the McCoys delivered Bo to her. "In Conakry," Bo says, "I attended St. Marie de Dixinn, a private Catholic school taught by the Fréres de Sacre Coeur (Brothers of the Sacred Heart). Africa was very different from what I expected when I returned shortly before my 12th birthday. Having seen pictures, I recognized my whole family -- except my sister who was born after I left. I quickly got over being scared and unable to speak French or Fulani, our tribal language."

The McCoys corresponded with Bo's mother and sent the family clothing, medicine, and orthopedic shoes for Bo. "In 1993, at age 16, Bo started writing grown-up letters expressing his understanding of his mother's love to send him to live with us, and asking to visit us," McCoy says. "In the summer of 1994, he obtained a 30-day visa, and showed clearly that he was mature and had outgrown his problems. We invited him, if he could get a student visa, to come and live with us."

Bo returned home and applied for a visa. Guineans were crowding the U.S. Embassy to secure a limited number of visas, so Bo climbed up on the gate and spoke to the U.S. Marine guard there in perfect idiomatic American English. The guard was surprised and opened the gate to Bo before the others. At Bingham High School, Bo earned a letter in track and set the state record with the school's medley relay team. He graduated in 1996, and received a scholarship to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. After one semester, he left school in January of 1997 to begin a two-year Mormon mission in southeastern Florida, after which he plans to return to school and complete a degree in civil engineering. Bo is the oldest of four children. A brother, Momoudou, 17, recently died in his sleep of sickle-cell anemia.

Another Large Family

McCoy was born in 1938 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He is the eldest of seven children of Harry E. McCoy Sr., a draftsman for Parkersburg Rig and Reel Company, a supplier of oil-field equipment; and Bonna Overton McCoy, a housewife.

"My mother"s Overton ancestors claim that they helped to found William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, and that at least one male relative, John Peyton Overton, fought for both sides in the Civil War," he says. McCoy's Methodist forebears are not related to the McCoys who feuded with the Hatfields. Harry Sr. died in 1988, Bonna in 1993.

Harry McCoy II's siblings are:

"Ann has worked for the committee for years and was on the staff when Adam Clayton Powell (D-New York) and Wilbur Mills (D-Arkansas) were investigated," McCoy says.

On Wings of Song

Harry McCoy II is a talented musician who played the bassoon, clarinet, e-flat alto sax, and electric bass guitar in high school. "My father purchased an old silver-plated clarinet for me when I was five," he says. "I started taking music lessons in elementary school, and in junior high the band director asked me to try the bassoon. In high school I played in both the band and the orchestra. Frank Gilbert, who taught me musicology and conducted the orchestra, had a major influence on me. I was always a good sight reader and willingly tried any instrument that Gilbert or the band director asked me to play.

"In 1955, for the first time in 15 years, our band played in a band contest for close-order military programs sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. We won the national contest in 1955, and again in 1956."

After high school, McCoy wanted to get away from the heat and humidity of West Virginia, so he joined the Air Force and was assigned to the 752nd Air Force Band at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. He also sang bass there with a barbershop quartet, the Spruceroosters. In Alaska, at about 20 years of age, McCoy became interested in the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

"At first when I joined the LDS my family was upset," he says, " but to their pleasant surprise I went on to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and economics in 1967 and my law degree in 1970."

While stationed in Alaska, McCoy decided to live in Utah. A Salt Lake City attorney serving as U.S. Commissioner in the federal court system in Anchorage, Alaska, wrote a recommendation letter. Discharged from the Air Force in November of 1959, McCoy left in January of 1960 to spend two and a half years as an LDS missionary in Finland, where he learned to speak Finnish. Released from his mission in the summer of 1962, McCoy returned to Anchorage. A year later he drove the Alcan Highway with an Air Force friend and his three children, then took a bus from Seattle, Washington, to Salt Lake City.

"I arrived with $25 in my pocket," he recalls. "A friend met me at the bus station and helped me find a job and a place to stay." McCoy enrolled in college in the fall of 1963, working his way through undergraduate school and law school by performing with dance bands. For several years he was a member of Local 104 of the American Federation of Musicians.

From 1963 to 1966, McCoy was one of the Shannons, a three-man, one-woman ensemble who sang Kingston Trio-style music. In 1964 the group entertained for a singles ward (Mormon congregation) camping trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. One of the campers was Helen Westenskow, who became Helen McCoy when they married on August 28, 1965. "We actually had met briefly earlier," Harry says. "Helen heard me ringing the doorbell of her neighbor, Jay Fowles, who was one of the Shannons. He wasn't home, so she accepted a borrowed banjo that I was returning to him." Helen McCoy admits she is not as musical as her husband. "I have great trouble staying on key," she says. She makes quilts and other craft items that she sells through arts-and-crafts shops.

A Back Problem

In 1967, after graduating cum laude from the University of Utah, McCoy entered law school in the fall on painkillers because of broken vertebrae he suffered while helping to lift a piano. "Between my first and second years of law school, I had major back surgery," he recounts. "Christine, our eldest child, was just six months old."

Throughout his second year of law school, he underwent therapy and could not drive or ride in a car because of potential back injury. "We moved to a little apartment near campus, and I walked to class," he says. "In the worst weather, when I was at greater risk to walk in the ice and snow, I accepted rides." While recuperating, McCoy worked in the criminal division of the Utah Attorney General's office. After graduation from law school, he became the state's first head of consumer protection. "I worked for Vernon B. Romney, then Utah's Attorney General, who was a cousin of former Michigan Governor George Romney. Attorney General Romney's largest financial supporter was his brother, Keith B. Romney, founder of a condominium consulting firm, Keith Romney Associates.

In 1971, Vernon recommend me for a position in his brother's firm with the words that 'McCoy is the most aggressive attorney on my staff.'" At Romney Associates, McCoy was a vice president. He worked on the Marriott Hotel account, preparing documents for the 120-acre, 423-room Marriott's Camelback Inn, the largest condominium hotel of its time registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the spring of 1971, McCoy attended his first American Land Development Association meeting and met ALDA founders Denny Brown, William B. Ingersoll and Gary Terry. A couple of years later the management of Lakeway Resorts, the home of the World of Tennis complex 18 miles west of Austin, Texas, approached Terry and asked him to help establish a consulting firm to use management knowledge gained during Lakeway's development. Terry made two trips to Texas, decided not to relocate from northern Virginia, and told Lakeway's management about McCoy.

A Better Job

Lakeway Resorts owner Bop Alpert took Terry's suggestion and asked McCoy to join his organization. "Harry did a better job for Lakeway Resorts than I ever could," says Terry. McCoy worked there for three years, then moved back to Salt Lake City in 1976 to accept his third assignment from the Utah Attorney General's office.

As an assistant attorney general, he prosecuted wrongful-death cases against employers who created dangerous workplace conditions. In 1977, McCoy joined the Salt Lake City law firm of Fox, Edwards, Gardiner & Brown as a shareholder and director.

"In 1987 the firm folded," says McCoy. "Its public-finance division moved to Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll. Tom Bennett, Robert W. Edwards, Randy Feil, Steve Peterson, and I elected to stay together, so we sublet space from our former partners and created a small boutique law firm, Edwards, McCoy & Kennedy."

In 1991, McCoy was considering leaving his law firm. Terry asked the leadership at Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough if they were interested. McCoy went there and took along his entire real-estate group -- Bennett, McCoy, and Peterson. In 1996, McCoy and his real-estate group moved to Ballard Spahr. With its home office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ballard Spahr has about 250 partners, and offices in Baltimore, Maryland; Camden, New Jersey; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City; and Washington, D.C.

A Life of Service

The old adage about asking a busy person if you want to get something done certainly applies to Harry McCoy. He has served since 1991 on ARDA's board of directors, is a founding director of the International Resort Foundation (formerly the International Timesharing Foundation), and currently serves as chairman of the Legislative Council and an ex-officio member of ARDA-ROC (the Resort Owners' Council).

"Over the years Harry has made significant contributions and served on important ARDA committees," says Terry. "He worked on the ARDA Code of Standards and Ethics, and served on the ARDA board and the Member Services Council."

In August of 1997, McCoy completed a three-year term as bishop of a 150-member group of an LDS singles ward, one of 13 such wards on the University of Utah campus. His congregants ranged in age from 18 to 30 years. Bishops spend an average of 30 hours a week on ward activities. Within days after his bishop assignment ended, Helen became president of the 350-member Country Park Fourth Ward Relief Society.

"Helen is assisted by two counselors and a board of 15 to 18 other women," McCoy explains. "They look after the spiritual and temporal welfare of the women aged 18 and over in the ward." McCoy also serves on the board of directors of the National Kidney Foundation's Utah chapter and is chairman of the chapter's planned-giving committee, which funds kidney research and support groups for kidney-disease patients and their families.

"I met Harry in 1985 when we moved to Holladay, Utah," says Richard R. Nelson, immediate past president and a board member of the National Kidney Foundation's Utah chapter. In professional life, Nelson is director of Industrial Assistance Funds, a Utah state bond authority. "Little did I know," Nelson says, "how the McCoys' life and family challenges and mine would become intertwined. When I was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in late 1990, Harry was one of the first persons I called. It was a tremendous help for me and my wife, Karen, to talk to someone who had experienced a kidney transplant's initial success and later rejection. On February 17, 1991, when I received notification that I would be receiving a kidney, again Harry was one of the first people I called. He was already at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City when I arrived to check in."

Recreational Pursuits

McCoy's father sang with a barbershop group in West Virginia, and McCoy himself sang in such groups in the Air Force and in college. In 1988, he joined the Saltaires, a 30-member barbershop chorus which has since grown to involve 80 singers.

In September of 1997, the Saltaires won a regional competition in Greeley, Colorado, for the second straight year. They will represent the Rocky Mountain district in a July, 1998, international contest in Atlanta. "Harry likes to perform. He's a great master of ceremonies with a good sense of humor, and he becomes facially and physically involved in the music he sings," says Ross L. Alger, a fellow Saltaires member and owner of Design Vinyl in Salt Lake City. "In addition, the Rocky Mountain District of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America benefits from Harry's legal knowledge." At home, McCoy plays the piano and organ for relaxation.

Knight of the Road

After spending his Air Force tour of duty on the ground, McCoy learned to fly single-engine planes as a participant in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Utah. After years of flying for business and pleasure, McCoy no longer belongs to flying clubs or pilots a plane because of lack of time. Instead, he spends free time exploring the intermountain west on a motorcycle. He became a biker in 1971 and currently rides and tinkers with a 1985 Honda Magna. For the past several years McCoy has organized motorcycle caravans to regional and national ARDA meetings.

"In October of 1995, on the Saturday before the ARDA Resort Management Seminar at the Silver Queen in Park City, Utah, Harry led us on a 150-mile ride along the Alpine Loop Road past Robert Redford's Sundance Resort," says C. Mike Morris, who rides a BMW K100a and consults for the 280-unit Christie Lodge in Avon, Colorado. In 1996, seven riders and five bikes made up a two-day motorcycle caravan to the spring ARDA meeting in Las Vegas. Morris and Lyn Weas, Christie Lodge's managing director, met McCoy and the rest of the Salt Lake City contingent in the tiny town of Torrey, Utah, during a snowstorm. Leaving the snow behind, the caravan visited Bryce Canyon National Park and rode through Zion National Park en route to Las Vegas. Plans already are afoot for another caravan to Las Vegas for the 1998 ARDA spring meeting.

Millennium Disclaimer

Typical of Harry McCoy's humor is the following disclaimer language prepared for inclusion in a timeshare client's draft prospectus:

"Based upon Septuagint chronology, the year 2000 is the time at which the Millennium will be ushered in. Both the Holy Scriptures and Nostradamus have predicted that great catastrophes will occur at the beginning of the Millennium. Such catastrophes have taken on greater certainty with the arrival of the Hale Bopp Comet (and companion spaceship). Moreover, a recent spate of Hollywood films including, among others, Twister, Independence Day, Dante's Peak, Volcano ("The Coast is Toast"), and The Flood represent a growing uncertainty associated with the approach of the year 2000. Finally, the number of individuals on Venice Beach, California, carrying placards with the message that "the end is near" has grown by over 200% since December, 1995. There can be no assurance that the world's economy and banking systems will not be destroyed in the year 2000. The Company may not be able to repay investors if they are burned as stubble and/or if the world as we know it no longer exists."

Rosalie E. Leposky is managing partner of Ampersand Communications, a news-features syndicate based in Miami, Florida.

For More Information

Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll

© Copyright 1997 Ampersand Communications
All Rights Reserved
Published in The Resort Trades, December 1997


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