Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 20, 2020

Hitchcock’s career intertwined with city’s history


The view from attorney Rick Hitchcock’s office on the 16th floor of Liberty Tower affords him an expansive view of downtown Chattanooga. From his standing desk, he can see a large swath of the city he has called home for nearly all of his 66 years.

Hitchcock’s view from the home of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel also serves as a lofty vista of his neighborhood, as he and his wife live only a few blocks away in a Cherry Street townhome.

“I like being able to walk to things I enjoy,” Hitchcock says. This includes strolls to his favorite restaurants, Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, Walnut Street Bridge and work.

From conference rooms and other spots throughout Liberty Tower, Hitchcock can see all of downtown, and at each point, he could tell a story about the hand he had in helping to shape part of what he’s seeing.

Hitchcock could point down at an electric bus as it winds its way from Shuttle Park North to Shuttle Park South and tell a story about his 21 years on the board of Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority.

During his tenure with CARTA, which included 18 years as chairman, the mass transit system raised the funds to build the shuttle parks and deployed environmentally friendly buses which have carried more than 25 million passengers throughout the city for free.

Hitchcock could also point toward Martin Luther King Boulevard and offer anecdotes about his work on the original Miller Park board.

“I kept notes as others decided what the design of that unique place would be,” he says, suggesting he had only a small role in helping to create the park that for over 40 years made downtown Chattanooga a more inviting place to be.

Looking past MLK, Hitchcock could even relate a story about his work on the board of Enterprise Center and its efforts to transform an aging patch of the city into a now celebrated Innovation District.

Hitchcock’s devotion to his community and pride in his hometown inspired him to help with these and other causes. However, his varied experience as an attorney enabled him to secure a seat at each table of progress.

Hitchcock began practicing in 1978 after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s College of Law. His first of two stops was Strang, Fletcher, Carriger, Walker, Hodge & Smith, which put him to work representing EPB on various matters.

As that relationship developed, Hitchcock began assisting clients with a variety of litigation and transactional matters, giving him an opportunity to gain experience in many areas of the law.

“I was advised that when people asked me what kind of lawyer I was, I should ask them what kind of lawyer they needed and then figured out how to do it,” Hitchcock points out. “I’ve done a lot of that because I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients who have had a lot of different needs.”

Hitchcock continues to take this approach to practicing law today. Whether he’s working on an environmental matter or helping a startup determine how to structure its financing, his objective is to learn as much as he can about his client and its goals.

“In order for me to help a client achieve its goals, I have to understand its business and what those goals are,” he says. “That applies to every client, whether it’s a large institution that’s important to this community or a small company that’s also important to this community and its owners.”

This process has made Hitchcock a lifelong student. Thankfully, it’s a role he’s relished.

“I enjoy learning new things. I didn’t know much about fiber optics until I started working with EPB, but in time, I was able to help them obtain approval to be in that business and to work with them as they expanded their presence and benefit to this community.”

The breadth of Hitchcock’s knowledge and experience has made him a key problem solver at Chambliss Bahner. “I can’t count the number of times a client or a lawyer has asked me about some esoteric issue, whether legal, business or practical, and I referred them to Rick,” says Mike St. Charles, former managing partner of the firm. “He has the right balance of theory and practice to help get things done.”

Hitchcock also likes a challenge, so he says, “Yes,” to handling nearly every matter presented to him, no matter how foreign the material or daunting the task.

“I won’t say ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary, but I seldom use it, and only when it’s not possible to achieve what the client wants,” he says. “Most days, I get to learn something new, and that’s good.”

Hitchcock began saying yes to challenges when he graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1973 and took a job as Mayor Robert Kirk Walker’s assistant.

This placed him at the precipice of decades of change as Walker led the city’s controversial annexation of nearly 50 square miles of land, began the process of launching a new public library and raised the funds to build Miller Park.

“Robert did extraordinary things during his tenure. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was increasing the size of the city,” Hitchcock notes. “Had that not happened, Hamilton Place would be in the county, much of Hixson would be in the county, and the city would be smaller than it is today and would have accomplished far less for the broader community.”

Walker also had a formative impact on Hitchcock’s life. As the managing partner of Strang Fletcher, he helped Hitchcock decide to go to law school.

“There were no lawyers in my family. I didn’t even know what lawyers did,” he recalls. “Robert helped me understand a little bit of what they did and encouraged me to go down that path.”

After graduating from UT in 1978, Hitchcock joined Strang Fletcher as an associate. When the firm dissolved 25 years later, he found a new home at Chambliss Bahner, where he has continued his diverse practice for 15 years.

“Strang Fletcher had shared a library with Chambliss Bahner in The Maclellan, so I had known the people here for many years,” Hitchcock says. “It was a good match because the people at this firm shared the values we epitomized at Strang Fletcher. They are extraordinarily good and talented people and I have enjoyed being here.”

Hitchcock has also appreciated the emphasis Chambliss Bahner places on family and community. Instead of insisting its attorneys work a strict schedule, the firm affords them the flexibility to make time for both.

This has allowed Hitchcock to continue his volunteer endeavors in the Chattanooga community. Over the years, he has served on the boards of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Chattanooga and Downtown Family YMCA, as well as the administrative board of First Centenary United Methodist Church.

Hitchcock is currently sitting on the boards and executives committees of The Company Lab and Enterprise Center. He relishes these roles as well.

“Walker explained that family, church and community are critical, but the law is a jealous mistress, and you have to figure out how to practice it along with those other things,” Hitchcock explains. “I believe I have struck a generally reasonable balance.”

Hitchcock’s productivity both in and out of the office has certainly impressed his colleagues at Chambliss Bahner. “How Rick makes the time to do all he does, I will never know. His energy level is unsurpassed,” St. Charles says.

Although Hitchcock has made many contributions to his community, St. Charles says his fellow attorney is more than happy to labor behind the scenes and allow others to receive the credit.

Regardless, Hitchcock’s local and state bar associations have insisted on recognizing him as an attorney who has distinguished himself in his profession.

In addition to being named a Chattanooga Bar Foundation Fellow in 2014, Hitchcock will be honored as a new Fellow of the Tennessee Bar Foundation during the organization’s Fellows Dinner in Nashville, which had been scheduled for April 3 but is now postponed due to the COVID-19 virus.

As St. Charles suggests, Hitchcock deflects the praise. “I’ve been involved with a lot of things. While that’s been gratifying, we’re working as a community to accomplish many things. Those range from supporting the excellent superintendent who’s leading our public schools to encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship. These aren’t my goals, they are – and should be – the community’s goals.”

If Hitchcock will boast about one thing, it’s his family. He’s proud of his three sons, who are grown and taking their place in their communities, and says his decision to marry his wife 46 years ago was a good one.

Hitchcock smiles as he remembers sailing the Caribbean with his sons and trips with his wife to watch spring training in Arizona.

Still, as impressive as the views of the Caribbean were from his rented sailboat, and as much as he liked watching some of major league baseball’s finest players demonstrate their passion for the game on a fresh field, neither panorama compared to the scene visible through his office window.

From his desk, Hitchcock can see not only his home, but a home for many he has helped to define. “This is a great community,” he says. “I enjoy living here.”