In the face of diagnosis of and treatment for aggressive brain cancer, most people are not likely to adopt a positive motto like “Today is a good day.”
But Bob Sharpe, who died August 28th after a heroic and odds-defying four-year battle with glioblastoma, was not “most people.”
An inspiration to all who knew him, Bob was the quintessential eternal optimist. He was a dedicated ULI luminary, tireless real estate industry leader and developer, and beloved family man whose passing is an enormous loss.
In his address to the ULI Global Governing Trustee dinner during the 2019 ULI Fall Meeting in Washington, DC, ULI Americas Chairman Jack Chandler paid homage to Bob, “a true leader who set an example with words and actions.” Bob and another ULI champion, Jim Curtis, who also passed over the summer, were “devoted to giving back for the benefit of the Institute, our industry, and our communities.”
For more than a quarter century, Bob, who was president of Sharpe & Associates, was an active participant in ULI. A ULI Key Leader, his numerous leadership positions included trustee, member of the Fall/Spring Meeting Program Committee, founder and chair of the Community Development Council (CDC) product council (Green Flight), Terwilliger Center for Housing board member, and ULI Arizona advisory board member.
He was passionate about sharing his knowledge and confronting industry challenges. He was a valued speaker at programs and funder for research, such as the Terwilliger Center’s Affordable Housing: Challenges, Perceptions, and Solutions report published this year.
Bob described his long relationship with ULI as “a family affair;” his son Jeremy started attending ULI meetings when he was in his teens. Jeremy, a ULI member in his own right since 2007 and founding member of ULI/NEXT, also followed in his father’s footsteps to join the ULI Foundation Governors and become a ULI Key Leader. The Governors comprise members deeply committed to philanthropic investment in ULI and its mission.
In announcing his father’s passing, Jeremy said, “I can’t express my dad’s love and appreciation for ULI enough. [He] credits his success in business and in life to those lessons learned at ULI and to the people he humbly calls his friends. [He] always believed that ULI is about giving back.”
“My goal has always been to give back to ULI as much as I’ve gotten out of ULI,” Bob said.
With a razor-sharp, visionary focus on sense of place and community, Bob embodied the ULI mission to provide leadership in responsible land use and creating and sustaining thriving communities.
While Bob managed more than 50 real estate ventures during his long career, Rancho Sahuarita remains the crown jewel. Beginning as 3,000 acres of dormant farmland in Sahuarita, Arizona, a rural community south of Tucson, Rancho Sahuarita is today the most highly amenitized master-planned community in southern Arizona.
It was the purchase of that land that prompted Bob to join ULI. “I had a vision of creating a town and a better place for people to live. But at 32 years old, I didn’t know anything about development,” he told the ULI Foundation in 2017. “People were so generous with me at ULI. They invited me to their projects and answered my questions as they shared their own mistakes made and lessons learned.”
Home to more than 18,000 people and more than 5,000 homes, the development is prized for its unmatched affordable, lifestyle-oriented offerings, including a community recreation center, clubhouses, parks, trails, a 10-acre lake, and open spaces; high-quality schools; retail, grocery, and business services; and numerous other amenities such as community events, babysitting services, and health and wellness offerings.
Rancho Sahuarita has earned numerous accolades since the sale of its first home closed in 2002, including recognition by ULI as one of 13 projects worldwide that demonstrated best practices in terms of creating a healthy place; “The Last American Boomtown” segment in 2008 on ABC News’s Nightline; and a number 29 ranking on Money magazine’s annual “50 Best Places to Live” in 2015.
“Our guiding principle has always been how do you provide amenities that improve people’s lives without adding to the cost?” Bob told the ULI Foundation. “For me, it has never been about the money but about our mission and vision of creating a great lifestyle for people and families at a price they can afford. Remarkably, we have built a financially sustainable land development company by staying true to our mission.”
No stranger to the impact of philanthropic support for the causes he cared about, Bob received the National Jewish Health Humanitarian Award in 2016 in recognition of his civic and charitable contributions. In addition to his major philanthropic support for ULI, Bob was committed to raising money for innovative brain cancer research to help others in the future. He and his wife Deborah established the Today Is a Good Day Foundation in 2018, a year after the inaugural Rancho Sahuarita Cancer Walk, to support the cause.
In his honor, the ULI Community Development Councils (CDC) established the “Bob Sharpe Today is a Good Day Award.” Nominations for the annual award, given each ULI Fall Meeting, will be reviewed by a small committee of CDC members. Each year’s awardee will be selected based on his or her consistent demonstration of the noteworthy characteristics that Bob exemplified.
Bob died at his home in Snowmass Village, Colorado, surrounded by family, and was laid to rest in Aspen. Services were held at the Chabad Jewish Community Center.
Bob is survived by his wife; son; two daughters, Sarah and Jennifer; and scores of friends and admirers. Upon learning of his passing, ULI Global CEO Ed Walter said, “We will miss Bob, his leadership, his vision, his passion, and most of all, his love for ULI.
In honor of Bob, make today a good day.”