Donald D. Duncan, a longtime city planner who was an instrumental behind-the-scenes player in Inner Harbor renewal, died of brain cancer Tuesday at his home in Sedona, Ariz. He was 73.
In 1967, he and two other graduate students at Cornell University had devised a master's thesis that concentrated on Baltimore, including a revitalization focus centered on the Inner Harbor.
He was immediately hired by Baltimore's legendary Planning Director Larry Reich when he graduated with a master's degree in urban planning in 1967.
"They had produced an urban design thesis for the entire city of Baltimore, and Larry Reich was very impressed with their work," said Ernest L. Caldwell, a Baltimore Development Corp. official who once worked for Mr. Duncan at the city's Planning Department. "He had a vast scope of talent."
Mr. Caldwell said Mr. Duncan never attracted or sought publicity for the work he did behind the scenes but was a pillar of professionalism inside the Planning Department.
"He wanted to bring out the best in every employee under his supervision," Mr. Caldwell said. "He was a very talented fellow who could do all kinds of designs, from the entire city right down to the lettering."
"It's a big loss," Mr. Caldwell added.
Mr. Duncan was born in San Francisco and raised in Lafayette, Calif., by his father, a vice president at Bank of America, and his mother, a nurse. He graduated from Acalanes High School before heading to the University of Oregon.
He started attending the college in 1955, but a year later was drafted into the Army.
He returned to school in 1958 and graduated three years later with a bachelor's degree in architecture from the college, according to his wife, Cecilia Duncan.
In 1961, he married college classmate Lynn Wheeler. The couple divorced in 1992.
He worked for a few years at a San Francisco architecture firm before continuing his education at Cornell.
He worked for the city's Planning Department for 30 years. He retired in 1997 as director of the department's urban design section. While in Baltimore, he lived in Roland Park and was a member of St. David's Episcopal Church on Roland Avenue.
"He loved Baltimore City," his wife said.
He was an avid runner who frequently traveled the popular course along Roland Avenue.
Mr. Duncan also was an acrylic painter in the cubist style. He designed murals and banners that were displayed at public markets and arts centers throughout Baltimore. His artwork won several competitions, and one of his paintings hung in the New York office of the Rockefeller family.
"Abstraction is life," he said in his writings in 2006. "Abstraction is harmony, and abstraction is disharmony."
His wife said that when Mr. Duncan's first marriage ended, she and Mr. Duncan, who had been longtime friends, began a frequent written correspondence while she lived in Washington state, commiserating over their divorces after decades of marriage.
A romance ensued and they were married in 1994. They moved to Sedona together after Mr. Duncan retired in 1997.
A celebration of his life will be held in September in Sedona, his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Duncan is survived by his son, Alec S. Duncan of Bainbridge, Wash.; a stepdaughter, Billie J. Rosen of Olympia, Wash.; a stepson, Robert Adkisson of Costa Mesa, Calif., and two grandchildren.