David R. Emery of Nashville, TN, husband, father, son, brother, sailor, entrepreneur, real-estate developer, and Chairman Emeritus of Healthcare Realty Trust, passed away peacefully at home on September 30, 2019 after fighting pancreatic cancer.
David was born September 28, 1944 to Mary Edith and Grady Thomas Emery. The oldest of three siblings, he grew up in Chattanooga, TN, where he graduated from Red Bank High School in 1962. His childhood included building forts, robots, and model airplanes, and taking apart cars and machinery and putting them back together. His mother, a professional seamstress, made sure he knew how to mend and iron clothes and sew on buttons. He helped pay for his first car by sacking groceries. David loved a project and was always fascinated by the technical aspects of how things worked.
David attended Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN and graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration in 1967. He met his beloved wife Glenda Allen, a 1962 graduate of Nashville’s West High School, on the University’s tennis courts. Married in Nashville on December 31, 1964, they were wed for 55 years. During college, David held a variety of jobs, including working at a local drug store, a funeral home, an office supply business, and in the summer, for Southern Airlines at the Nashville airport.
After college, David began working with Nashville firm R.A. McDowell, buying and selling land along the interstate highway system. Real estate would be his professional focus for the next fifty years. In 1973, David began his first major development project, the high-rise Rokeby Apartments on West End Avenue. Operating as the Emery Partnership, LLC, and working with Gresham Smith and Partners and Holt-Southeast, he went on to develop several properties along the West End corridor, including the 3310, 3401 and 3322 office buildings. Trees were important to David, and he planted and preserved them with intention in all his commercial and personal construction projects.
In the early 1980s, David was often in the news as he fought an attempt by Third National Bank to condemn a Church Street property he owned, a key parcel the bank wanted for their downtown headquarters. The battle became a hot topic in local news and politics, with the Nashville Banner editorial board backing David and The Tennessean backing the bank. After much debate and consternation, the Metro Council voted 17 in-favor and 21 against the condemnation on February 15, 1983. In the years that followed, David continued his development efforts downtown, completing the Nashville City Center, a 27-story office tower at the corner of 6th Avenue and Union Street, in 1988.
In 1992, David lead the team that founded Healthcare Realty Trust, Inc., which was listed on the New York Stock Exchange on May 27, 1993, in an initial public offering with 21 properties. For almost three decades, David guided the company’s growth to 282 employees and 200 properties valued at $5.7 billion. David retired as CEO in 2016 and continued to serve as the company’s Chairman until taking medical leave. Colleagues from all phases of David’s career described him as a generous and kind mentor, a tenacious and determined leader, and a loyal friend. He set high standards for himself and those with whom he worked.
A bibliophile and logophile, David enjoyed reading biographies and books about business, nautical history, and engineering. He had a keen eye for detail and design and counted many architects among his best friends. In the early 1970s, he worked with architect Robert Anderson to design two modern homes, one of which was featured in Southern Living magazine. Personal construction projects included everything from the renovation of a 1942 International-style duplex to the design and construction of a French manor home and a new-made-old, Federal-style house, which was featured in Southern Accents, with architect Ken Tate. David and Glenda enjoyed traveling to learn about history, architectural design, and decorative arts.
After visiting Maine for many years, David and Glenda spent a decade of summers together in the cottage they built on Spruce Point in Boothbay Harbor. David purchased a majority ownership in the Spruce Point Inn & Resort in 2010. Managing the renovation and marketing efforts, he enjoyed working with the ownership team, and put his long-time photography hobby to use in enhancing the resort’s website.
David and Glenda both enjoyed volunteering for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. David served as a board member and chairman of the Gardens, leading the design and construction of the new visitor center, which opened in 2018, and the design and capital campaign for a new conservatory.
A life-long learner, David taught himself to sail and enjoyed it immensely throughout his life. Some of his happiest times were halcyon days with family and friends cruising the coastal waters of Maine. He was an able and diligent captain of several boats, which he could dock with finesse in any slip under almost any condition. He was a member of the Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club and a supporter of its youth sailing program.
David was a loving father and role model to daughter Angie, born in 1973. As a child, she was often by his side running errands and inspecting construction sites. He loved to read to her and take her to Nashville’s downtown library via the city bus. He built her a “tree house” in their Rokeby apartment and taught her how to sail. Her interest in the built environment piqued by observing her father’s real estate projects, Angie majored in Growth & Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College, and after years of community service, was elected to Nashville’s Metro Council. His daughter was his pride and joy, and he was likewise proud of his grandchildren.
David encouraged family and friends not to let their fears stop them from undertaking difficult projects and fulfilling big dreams. Creativity, preparation, tenacity, humility, and integrity were essential to his success. David’s legacy was not just in the businesses and structures that he built but most importantly in the people that he loved and encouraged. He will be greatly missed.
David Emery is survived by wife, Glenda Allen Emery; daughter, Mary Angeline (Angie) Emery Henderson; son-in-law, Arthur I. Henderson; grandchildren, Eleanor Emery Henderson and Owen Emery Henderson; sister, Martha Emery, of Chattanooga; and brother, Steve Emery, of Cincinnati.
The family is grateful for the excellent care provided by palliative nurse Tammy Hakim and her fellow nurses and for all the heartfelt cards and letters sent over the last several weeks.
Please join family and friends in celebrating David Emery’s life on Wednesday, October 30 at 10:30 AM in the Wightman Chapel of Scarritt-Bennett Center, 1027 18th Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee, 37212. Reception to follow in Bennett Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial gifts be made to:
Nashville Tree Foundation, nashvilletreefoundation.org, P.O. Box 58962, Nashville, TN 37205
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, mainegardens.org, 132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, ME, 04537