Bob Kern, 81: Smart businessman was real estate innovator

Bob Kern was a visionary with a personality his family, friends and colleagues describe as “larger than life,” an Atlanta real estate pioneer and a family man who loved to make people laugh.

“He loved business more than anything in the world,” said Jann Kern, his wife of 55 years. “He was a very dynamic man.”

Kern received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Miami University in 1955. He then served as a fighter pilot with the Air Force’s 444th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, flying surveillance missions for the Strategic Command Force in Central, North and South America. He soon began a career that took him to IBM, Great Southwest Corp. and the Vantage Company, where he was executive vice president.

“He had a lot of ambition, he was willing to work extremely hard and he wanted to be successful,” said his wife. She also said, “He loved me more as we went on. I could have gone another 55 years with him.”

Kern and his family moved to Atlanta in 1970 where he worked with Paul Duke and Cousins Properties before forming his own company, Kern & Company, Inc. in 1977.

Devoted to his work, Kern introduced “flex office” buildings to Atlanta, single-story buildings that offered the flexibility of having office space in an industrial structure.

“While titans Tom Cousins, John Portman and Hal Barry were building to the sky, Kern had created the ‘flex office’ market with single-story office parks such as Galleria 75 in Cobb County,” said his colleague Tony Wilbert.

“If somebody said it couldn’t be done, he found a way to do it and to prove it could be done,” said his wife.

Robert Fleming Kern died Thursday of natural causes. He was 81. A memorial Mass will be held 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 4465 Northside Drive NW, Atlanta. Cremation Society of Georgia is in charge of arrangements.

“He had great ideas that expanded. I think it was something he was just born with,” said his wife.

“He was always encouraging personally and professionally,” said colleague Rick Lackey. “He was truly the best salesman I ever met.”

With more than 15 million square feet developed, Kern was an inspiration to his son Kevin Kern, who is also a developer. “He instilled in me the desire to not give up. He was a great husband, father, grandfather and friend,” Kevin Kern said.

Kern remained active until late last year, when he presented plans to develop Cornerstone Medical Office Center at Peachtree and Collier roads in Atlanta’s Brookwood Hills neighborhood.

“I let my neighbors know we were lucky that someone of his stature and vision was the one leading the redevelopment of a key strip of Peachtree. I hope that project carries on, with Bob’s spirit leading the way,” said Wilbert.

In addition to is wife and son, Kern is also survived by daughter Kelly Kern Collins of Roswell and five grandchildren.

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