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In Memoriam: Tommy Pacello

U3 Advisors is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend, colleague, and collaborator Tommy Pacello, President of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, on November 16, 2020 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.

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Tommy Pacello had an infectious civic spirit. It was visible when you walked (or perhaps better stated ran) down the street with him in his hometown of Memphis, TN. Tommy didn’t saunter at a leisurely pace – he moved quickly and often picked up trash along the way – leaving his path (and city) cleaner for the next passerby. It was apparent when you spent time with Tommy – his broad smile and genuine warmth had a way of making even strangers feel welcome in any conversation. It was clear in his urbanist ethos – a departure from a career that included journalism and law – that he believed vibrant, walkable, connected neighborhoods could help make the world a little better for everyone. It was evident when he spoke about his family – his wife Olivia and two young daughters Colette and Cecile – and how becoming a dad gave him a new appreciation for the importance of strong communities and places.

A passionate new urbanist, Tommy had a way of seeing both the big picture and appreciating the small details. He could opine on the breadth and scale of a neighborhood plan and fret about the width of a sidewalk or the material of a building. Even with his convictions, Tommy had an innate ability to listen to others. This talent, coupled with his enthusiasm, helped him build strong and broad coalitions like the Memphis Medical District Collaborative – the organization that we launched together at U3 Advisors, and he led for 5 years as its first President. Tommy’s collaborative leadership style made it easy for Hospital CEOs, philanthropic leaders, and community residents to gather around the same table in order to achieve shared goals.

Tommy’s time at MMDC was a capstone in a life cut too short. During his tenure, his direction and vision transformed the Memphis Medical District from disinvested and auto-oriented to vibrant and people-focused. Under his leadership, MMDC built new and improved existing public spaces and programmed them with lively events and public art that engaged the community. It attracted new businesses – ranging from spin studios to chocolate shops – with a focus on local entrepreneurs. It created new pathways for neighborhood residents to job opportunities at the district’s anchor institutions. New real estate investment in the Medical District that range from small and affordable infill development to large mixed-use projects are a testament to Tommy’s vision and commitment to making the Medical District a place for everyone. Even though Tommy continued to pick up litter during his walks, through MMDC he now had a dedicated team of district ambassadors to help him with the task of making the neighborhood cleaner and more welcoming.

Even when facing the most challenging fight of his life, Tommy seemed to handle it all with grace and courage. Despite his health outlook – Tommy made sure that MMDC’s work continued – ensuring small businesses reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic received financial support and finalizing MMDC’s new strategic plan – a blueprint for the organization’s next 5 years. Through all of it, Tommy fought courageously for his life, enduring challenging cancer treatments and never ceasing in his role as loving father and husband.

Beyond his passion for improving cities – we will remember Tommy’s warmth and compassion for his friends, colleagues, and family. His charming demeanor and optimistic outlook. His wit and sense of humor. And perhaps most of all, his empathy for others.

We at U3 Advisors are honored to consider Tommy as member of our family. Tommy has left Memphis, and our urbanizing world, a better place through his actions and spirit which we can only hope to emulate for years to come.