Celebrating Robert Kirkland’s life

Hundreds turned out today to honor a man dedicated to investing in the future with a kind and humble heart. Robert Kirkland founded and then established hundreds of Kirkland gift stores across the country and, later, the Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee.

He died Saturday at home, but today friends and family celebrated his life.

At the memorial, there was a sound you generally don’t hear at a funeral or memorial service —laughter. But it’s one that was encouraged at Robert Kirkland’s life celebration today. Kirkland’s lifelong friend, coworker, and Discovery Park CEO Jim Rippy says it’s what Kirkland wanted. And Rippy says Kirkland always got what he wanted. 

“Before he died, he called me and two or three people together and he said I want you to celebrate my life and sing the songs I want to sing…He was that kind of guy,” Rippy remembers.

But it was Kirkland’s vision to give back to his hometown and philosophy to educate children he will be remembered for. Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire says Kirkland was a humble man who didn’t have to put his name on everything, “He threw his heart out and wanted people to learn, and that’s why he built discovery park,” McGuire says.

Knowing how much he did for the area, McGuire says people may never know the full extent of his impact, saying “He was so helpful in our community, and we were so proud we had someone like that in our community.”

Kirkland was described as a leader in business, respected and revered by those around him. That’s why those who knew him say remembering him with smiles and laughter fulfills another one of his dreams. 

“We’re all sad he’s gone, no doubt about that,” Rippy says. “But the way he lived and the way he liked to do things, he wanted everyone to have a good time and not be sad.”

Before his passing, Kirkland made sure the future of Discovery Park of America would be secure with continuing donations for the next 20 years. And while the park was closed today for the memorial service, it will be open tomorrow.

Kirkland’s family requests any donations be made to the Discovery Park of America scholarship fund.

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