Philanthropist & entrepreneur Robert Kirkland dies at 77

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UNION CITY, Tenn. — Entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert Kirkland has died at age 77. Kirkland is known for creating a nationally recognized home decor chain and most recently for founding Discovery Park of America in his hometown of Union City. “He had a knack, maybe another gene than the rest of us,” said Jim Rippy, CEO of Discovery Park of America. “He thought out of the box all of the time. He was always thinking about things he could do.” Rippy may be one of the few who knew Robert Kirkland the best. Rippy said they were childhood friends who grew up together. “Think big — don’t think little — and I think his ability to think like that, even in his business, he always thought the same way,” Rippy said Thinking big fits best with Discovery Park. Staff at the park said the learning and teaching site sprawls over 50 acres and invites visitors to experience 250 million years of history. According to the park, Kirkland donated more than $140 million to create the park and help fund the learning center in the future. Many said Kirkland was not only successful but also funny and that his ideas and presence will be missed the most. “He will be missed by all of us because we all looked for what he thought,” Rippy said. Discovery Park will be closed Wednesday for a celebration of life service that will begin at 2 p.m. Discovery Park officials said the family has asked that in lieu of flowers or gifts, donations be made to Discovery Park of America’s Education Department. It will be used for scholarships for children who may not be able to afford to come to the park.

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