Robert Edward Kirkland

Category: Awards | Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna

2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner

Robert Kirkland graduated from the Haslam College of Business in 1960. Getting his start at his parents’ Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in Nashville, Kirkland then acquired a local retail store and launched a chain of Kirkland’s stores that eventually expanded to 300. His business portfolio expanded to include commercial real estate properties and community banking, as well as CBK Ltd., which sold gift items and home décor throughout the country and around the world, all shipped from a Union City, Tennessee, distribution center.

In the late 1990s, he and his wife, Jenny, sold their business holdings to concentrate on philanthropic efforts. They established the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation and focused their energy on improving conditions for young people in their Obion County community in Northwest Tennessee. Among many worthy causes, the Kirklands funded the Promethean Foundation, which provides free daycare for at-risk children from birth to age five in Obion County. They also partnered with a local high school and the Union City Rotary Club to provide funding for eight students each year to travel to Europe and explore new cultures and languages.

In the first decade of the 21st century, Kirkland worked with the world’s leading architects and designers to create Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee. Opened in 2013, the interactive learning facility brings the history of the world to life, from the Paleozoic Era to modern-day space travel.

“He was a man who loved learning and was always curious about how things worked,” said his son, Chris Kirkland. “Discovery Park was really an extension of that curiosity and wanting to instill in children and adults a continued craving for knowledge and understanding.”