This book is the first comprehensive telling of Robert P. Madison’s amazing life.
The night I began writing this introduction to Designing Victory, the temperature in Cleveland dropped to near zero. Summer and the publication of this book seemed impossibly far off. In fact, my publisher told me I would already have celebrated my 95th birthday before the first print run was delivered and the ebook version was released. Turns out he was right about the timing. In turn, I confide that now that this process is complete, I am so pleased that my story has finally been properly told.
In one way or another, for more than 40 years, I’ve wrestled with countless memories, notes, letters, essays, photos and memorabilia, trying to make sense of them and get them in order. At least once a week—sometimes several times a day—over that period, doubt entered my head: “Are you sure it’s worth it? Is this story worth telling? What can I say that others need to hear? Will anybody want to read this?”
I heard those whispers of doubt in my head over and over; everybody who attempts to create or achieve something new hears them, don’t they? Still, after listening to those whispers for far too long, I knew I was ready to raise my voice.
This business of recalling what I saw, what I felt, what I did, and writing down family history from before I was even born, has been remarkable. It’s also been unexpectedly gratifying, especially when previously unknown details or long-forgotten memories surface to provide me with new context. But it’s hard work and surprisingly fatiguing, both physically and mentally, to patch together conversations, news clippings, photos, and other accounts of all the days of my life. For those of you good at math, you might have already done the calculation—that’s nearly 35,000 days (detail-oriented folks out there shouldn’t forget to figure 24 leap year days into their calculation).
That’s a lot of sunrises and sunsets—much observing, learning, working, enduring, and enjoying life. I’ve done all that.
I personally connect to a huge swath of American history. Between my life and the lives of relatives I have known, we cover a range of more than 160 years. That’s about two-thirds the history of the United States. So far, during my life, 16 different men have held the office of president of the United States, representing quite a diversity of philosophy, leadership, and character.
Unfortunately, many of my life experiences are measured not just by days, years, or even the number of U.S. presidencies. The organized violence of wars also `provides sad milestones for me and my family. You’ll learn about Grandma Land, my great-grandmother, who was born before the Civil War. I was born not quite five years after the end of the Great War, as it was called then. I fought in the war that followed that one, World War II, the greatest and worst the world has ever seen. I almost died, several times, in that war.
But not all violence and hatred happen within the boundaries of war. Those close to me—family, friends, colleagues—have experienced plenty of examples of those. I have also known the sweetest, most personal love. Without that, what life is worth living?
Along the way, I received a first-class education and graduated from the best schools before opening my own business, the first black-owned architectural firm in Ohio and just the tenth in the United States. I learned early on, however, that the halls of academe and the corner offices of the workplace are not the only way stations where one learns about life.
Bob Madison and Carlo Wolff, October 2018, in front of one of Madison’s projects: FirstEnergy Stadium, home for the Cleveland Browns.
Family—wonderful, warm, messy family—is a school unto itself. For most of us, family provides the most meaningful education.
My family goes way back, and I recall many times that I benefited from older members who looked out for us. So it’s appropriate for my story to begin not with my physical birth, but with the kind of birth many of us go through in adolescence. This is a birth of greater awareness, I guess. It’s about awareness of the world—where you come from, how you fit in, where you want to go. My adolescent sensibilities included all of that. While family members were looking out for me, I carefully observed them to learn how life works, how success is achieved, how victories are celebrated, and, unfortunately, what happens when circumstances conspire to doom some to failure and sadness.
“Bob’s ability to be self-critical is part of what makes him an outstanding professional leader. Speaking the truth as he sees it is an exceptional characteristic, no matter how difficult it might be for those around him. I admire Bob’s passions, forthrightness and his unique ability to be magnanimous.”
Malcolm Holzman, FAIA
Malcolm Holzman FAIA, is an American architect, who practices in New York City, and is a founding partner of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture (HMBA) and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA). Malcolm has planned, programmed, and designed over 130 projects for public use; including 35 library projects during the last five decades.