A Hand In Memphis

January 31st, 2020

Rob Norcross

(published in The Daily Memphian)

My friend Rob Norcross is retiring this week.

That’s hard to believe when you look at him because he still looks like he’s barely old enough to buy a beer. When he talks about what he does and has done, he still has that sparkle in his eye and that gee whiz tone in his voice that young people have – anything is possible, everything is an adventure.

But it’s time for the next step in a meaningful journey.

His started on a big farm in Tyronza, Arkansas – a wide spot in the road not far from here, and Rob is never far from there. His past is part of his present, his family – past and present – integral. His respect for land and its use came from there. His fascination for form and structure came from there, too, roaming among the bones of old farm buildings and foundations. And there he learned that things don’t move until people pull together.

Rob is an architect. You may not think you know him, but you do. And you like him. 

The next time you walk the broad and shady concourse on a hot day in AutoZone Park, or spill a beer at the crack of a bat or the joy of a goal, raise that beer to Rob. The next time you see Grizzlies growl at FedExForum, or Tigers roar, or the entire building rock at a concert, wave a towel or tip your hat or dance in the aisle for Rob.

He was the architect for, hands down, the most acclaimed minor league ballpark in the country, and for the commodious and boisterous home of first grit and grind and now Penny and Ja – places where we get together and come together to cheer.

And if you ask Rob about either of them, he’ll just smile and say something that defines him as much as the landmarks he’s designed, as much as the big ideas he’s had.

“I was part of a team,” he’ll say.

And he’s right. He’s a principal in Looney Ricks Kiss, and for the last three decades or so he’s been a principal player in the firm’s unquestioned influence on this city’s built environment. In Rob’s estimation, the credit for all of that is shared, all the accolades and awards are shared, all the ups and downs, all the all-nighters, all the elation and rejection – all shared. In my estimation, that kind of recognition of others and that kind of humility in someone so creative is to his credit and his colleagues’ benefit.

As we watch South City transform one end of downtown and St. Jude the other, know that Rob had a hand in that. When you have a drink in Eight & Sand or dinner in Bishop, or anything in the Memphis-centric, reimagined Central Station Hotel, he had a hand in that, too. And in the Memphis-Shelby County Land Use Control Board, the Memphis Landmarks Commission, many of the homes in Harbor Town, and in the FedEx World Technology Center in Collierville.

And more.

Rob Norcross’s vision is in the Memphis we see today, and that vision has helped set the standards for the Memphis we hope to see tomorrow. 

That’s a career that deserves a hand from all of us. 

I’m a Memphian, and don’t worry about buying that beer, Rob. I’ve got the next one.

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