The painful fall of Robert Lipscomb

For many who “know” Lipscomb, this matter goes beyond surprise. It’s painful to them on a gut level.

Karanja A. Ajanaku | 9/3/2015, 10:28 a.m.
For many who “know” Lipscomb, this matter goes beyond surprise. It’s painful to them on a gut level.
Robert Lipscomb Photo by Karanja A. Ajanaku

Nobody who still supports besmirched former housing and development agencies mainstay Robert Lipscomb – and there are many – condones sexual misconduct with a minor. So let’s not get things twisted they are saying.

No charges have been filed against Lipscomb, who has resigned as director of the City of Memphis’ Housing and Community Development division and stepped away from the Memphis Housing Authority, where he long had been the executive director. There are, however, disturbing allegations, both in the nature of the accusations and the number.

Information from Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s office details that since the investigation began August 21, nine individuals have made similar allegations that are currently under investigation by the Memphis Police Department.

For many who “know” Lipscomb, this matter goes beyond surprise. It’s painful to them on a gut level. In part, that is because the bond formed with the Lipscomb known by them is directly and/or indirectly associated with making sure the children of Memphis, particularly, its African-American children, are safe, protected and increasingly provided with the opportunity to be their best selves.

It’s painful, they say, because the Lipscomb who exists beyond being the most visible public force for housing and development for decades has shown time and again that he is a human being who truly cares about others. So much so that time and again he has pulled from his own pockets to help the needy, off the record, outside of the limelight, with no request for compensation or recognition.

“He reached in his own pocket when I called him to help me with assisting the mother of Michael Orr, who the film “The Blindside” was about,” said state Rep. Barbara Cooper (District 86). He reached in his own pocket to help out without hesitation.”

It’s painful, they say, because if the allegations were to prove true, there likely are a number of people in need of help and who have needed it for a long time. That would mean Lipscomb among them.

And it’s painful, they say, because it is difficult in a media-saturated world to balance waiting for the investigation to yield its findings and jumping to conclusions. Speculation is rampant. Some openly wonder if the yet-undetected hand of election-year politics is at play.

“It is a terrible accusation. But even if it is true, why did they make a public spectacle of this. This could have been done privately,” said Cooper. “It makes you wonder if there is a motive behind this. I cannot believe he did something like this, but this was definitely manipulated. Robert has been too honorable for this type of treatment."

Lipscomb’s leadership at HCD goes back to 1992. He has been involved in major development projects for the past 20 years. That string started to unravel last Friday when a call came into the mayor’s office.

At Monday’s news conference, Wharton said a 26-year-old man alleged that “he had a sexual relationship with Director Lipscomb when he, the complainant, was 16.”