George Hite McLean, Jr. 1944 - 2021

Friends has lost a founding board member and great friend.

Hite McLean not only brought sound reasoning and humor to Friends for Our Riverfront board meetings, but he and former Dean Jim Smoot of the University of Memphis were probably the nation's two most knowledgeable lawyers on the issue of the public's right to the land along the Memphis riverfront. He will be sorely missed.

George Hite McLean, Jr. was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on February 26, 1944 to Lenore Kimbrough and George Hite McLean. Growing up there with friends and his large, extended family engendered his most wonderful traits: his storytelling ability, contagious laugh, interest in the law, and musicianship.

Hite attended Vanderbilt University, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and received a B. A. in history in 1965. In 1968 he received a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi, and in 1973 he earned an LL.M in labor and employment law from George Washington University.

From 1968-70, he served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the U.S. Navy. He was stationed as Legal Officer with the U.S. Marine Corps on Okinawa and then in the Navy's Office of Legislative Affairs in Washington, D.C. 

He married his wife of 50 years, Virginia Bell Overton, in 1971, and they lived in Washington while Hite served as Professional Staff Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

They moved to Memphis in 1976, where Hite joined the law firm of Ireland, Reems, Henderson, and Chafetz and served as legal counsel to Cook Industries. In 1978, he spent a year in Philadelphia with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was the true start of a career focused on employment law. Over the years, he worked at the Winchester Law Firm, was a solo practitioner, and served as a part-time Assistant County Attorney for Shelby County.

Hite loved to spin stories - punctuating them with his unmistakable laugh, and his passion was music. Competent on 15 different musical instruments, he entertained numerous friends and family singing and playing boogie woogie and the blues, particularly on the piano, guitar, and harmonica. He also was a long-time member of the Second Presbyterian Church choir.

Hite's interests were varied - from reading the classics to winning awards with teammates at the Memphis in May Barbecue Contest. He was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Memphis and the Society of the Cincinnati. He also spent many hours serving on the board of Friends for Our Riverfront, not just as a legal adviser but also writing and recording an album in support of Memphis's public riverfront.

He leaves behind a son, George Hite McLean III of Memphis, and a daughter, Mathilde McLean Crosby (Mark), and a grandson, Samuel McLean Crosby, also of Memphis.

The memorial service will be at 11:00am Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in the chapel at Second Presbyterian Church. In lieu of flowers, hug your family, and, if you wish, direct a gift in his honor to the charity of your choice, Protect Our Aquifer, or Friends for Our Riverfront (P.O. Box 111387, Memphis, TN 38111).

Environmental Justice Award for Memphian Sue A. Williams


Such well-deserved recognition from the national Sierra Club for FfOR board member Sue A. Williams! Sue is the 2020 recipient of the national Sierra Club's prestigious Robert Bullard Award for Environmental Justice!

You’re one of the lucky ones, if Sue has taken you on an environmental tour of Shelby County. For years she has been involved in improving the environment we live in and has been a strong advocate for environmental justice for those who have traditionally lived and worked closest to the sources of pollution. She can tell you first hand about the factors that have played a role - misguided regulatory policy, unequal regulation enforcement, discriminatory siting, unequal political power….

For 29 years, Sue has been a dedicated and tenacious advocate for Environmental Justice (EJ) communities in Memphis, sometimes quietly in the background using her legal training to give wise guidance and sometimes out-front joining a protest at the gates of a haz-waste recycling plant in South Memphis or speaking at public hearings in opposition to a hazardous incinerator in North Memphis. 

In 1999, when the National Sierra Club received funding for five EJ Program offices around the country, Sue and now deceased, fellow Sierran Dick Mochow successfully wrote the local club’s grant application for an EJ Program office in Memphis. Next she served on the hiring committee for a director of the program. The establishment of the EJ program office sparked local and regional support for people-of-color and poor communities dealing with a myriad of issues such as dangerous air pollution from fence line industries, protecting neighborhoods from Superfund sites, closing down illegal barrel storage operations, and stopping a low-level nuclear waste incinerator. Sue served as volunteer co-lead for the Memphis EJ Program for three years, working intimately with the staff organizer and neighborhood leaders. In 2000, she was awarded the first Memphis EJ Award.

Educating and engaging with community members has always been a goal in Sue’s activism. In the early 2000s she supported the fight for clean air by assisting in planning a Bucket Brigade and air sampling training for the Douglass neighborhood in north Memphis, which is surrounded by eight polluting facilities. The training was successful and prepared the community to do their own air sampling and testing. Sue supported training Sierra Club and community members, and when the communities around hazardous facilities were encouraged to be prepared by taking the CERT Community Emergency Response Training Course, Sue was right there, learning with neighborhood members. She attended a Dismantling Racism weekend training (2012) in Marin County, CA, and an Organizing Training that was held in Memphis in 1998. Sue has served on the planning committee for Memphis’ longest running grassroots environmental conference series, with the most recent conference held in November 2019. 

A strong voice for the environment at all levels and in many capacities, Sue served on the state TN Sierra Club Environmental Justice Committee and as delegate and subsequently vice-chairman of the Gulf Coast Regional Conservation Committee. She sought change to the local billboard ordinance, which was successfully revised in 1998; she served as water quality chair in the Sierra Club Group and Chapter and as environmental chair with the local League of Women Voters. Sue has been a leader and strong advocate for a connected system of public parks and trails along the Mississippi River as a board member of both Chickasaw Bluff Conservancy and Friends for Our Riverfront.

Tom Lee Park - Mediation ends, Plan heads back to Drawing Board

* Agreement between City, Memphis-in-May, and Memphis River Parks Partnership on Tom Lee Park.  Link

* Coverage by the Flyer, Link

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Tom Lee Park - 3 Takes on the Plan

Amid lots of controversy, it's sometimes hard to get the facts. A big thank you to "Memphis Downtowner Magazine" for presenting the main tracts of thought on the $60M plan for Tom Lee Park. LINK

Statements by 1) Memphis WAKE UP: Get OUR Riverfront RIGHT!; 2) Ray Polhman, Chairman Memphis River Parks Partnership; 3) Mayor Jim Strickland. Click to enlarge or go to "Memphis Downtowner."

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Plan for Tom Lee Park

Studio Gang and SCAPE were hired by Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP/RDC) to redesign Tom Lee Park.  LINK to plan.

The plan is to relandscape Tom Lee Park; add a recreation facility with basketball courts and an educational lookout tower; and make infrastructure and road changes. The estimated cost is $60M.




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Hit a Milestone

Finally, an entity planning our riverfront has acknowledged that the land along the river belongs to us, the citizens of Memphis. In their plans for a riverfront of connected parks, MRPP is the first to honor the dedication of the city founders.
The city granted us a 13-year management agreement to manage the 250 acres of riverfront that are owned by the citizens of Memphis...
Thank you! Now we hope they'll do it right and truly involve citizens in the process - ask our opinions and really listen to our input before they make decisions.

Link to "Flyer" article about new leaders and new plans, click HERE.

Bert Merrill, 1922 - 2018

Bert Merrill (center) with Patricia Merrill (L) and Jeannette King (R);
Picnic celebrating the merger of Chickasaw Bluff Conservancy
& Friends for Our Riverfront, 2013.
It is with great sorrow that we learned of the death of Bert Merrill in Sarasota, FL on Sept. 24. Bert was a founding member of Friends for Our Riverfront, sharing his deep knowledge of the river, engineering, and this community.

Bert's commitment to public access and protection of the natural beauty of the Memphis riverfront was deep rooted. He was a member of the Chickasaw Bluff Conservancy, whose advocacy resulted in today's Bluffwalk. He and his wife, Patricia were also staunch supporters of their neighborhood, Sea Isle, and helped design and implement the neighborhood's lovely park.

Here is his obituary from the Sarasota "Herald Times" and Memphis "Commercial Appeal," which includes information about his outstanding military and engineering career and his role as Dir. of Physical Plant and Planning at the University of Memphis.
Read more »

Last year, Memphis's Big River Crossing won -- This year, Boston's Finnegan Park

Last year the Excellence in Design Top Honor Award from The Waterfront Center went to our Big River Crossing!

This year, Sen. Joseph Finnegan Park at Port Norfolk in Boston received the award. The park, created on once contaminated industrial land, links Neponset Greenway with Boston's Harborwalk and restores the shoreline to its native saltwater habitat.

Click HERE for more on the exciting 2018 Excellence in Design Awards.

Click HERE for short powerpoints on each winning project: Willamette Falls Riverwalk Master Plan (Oregon City, OR), Newark Riverfront Park (Newark, NJ), Refuge Gateway and Humbug Marsh (Detroit, MI), South Waterfront Greenway (Portland, OR), Virginia Institute of Marine Science Campus Plan (Wachapreague, VA), The Wharf (Washington, D.C.), San Francisco Bay Trail Design Guidelines and Tool Kit, and The Billion Oyster Project (Governors Island, NY).

New Leadership, New Name

As Carol Coletta becomes president of what was the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation, it looks like there's been an important change in focus, not the least of which is its new name - Memphis River Parks Partnership.

Highways Transformed into Parks

"Before & After" look from "Arch Daily" -   6 cities that built highways but have now transformed them into urban parks: Portland, Seoul, San Francisco, Madrid, Milwaukee, and Seattle.  Click HERE .

In Memphis, the story is different. In 1969, a plan for a 16-lane expressway along our riverfront was rejected, and, in 1971, a U.S. Supreme Court decision protected Overton Park from an interstate.

We escaped the full blow, and, yet, today, it's hard to get rid of the parking garages, lots, and interstate bridge ramps built on riverfront parkland. What's the best way to mediate Riverside Drive and slow down its traffic - reduce it to 2 lanes with a green median, close it, police it? Meanwhile in Overton Park, Memphis is heading in the opposite direction of major world cities; plans call for turning parkland into a bigger parking lot.