Joe Birch Jr., AFSC (’78)
“The academic light bulb came on for me in my junior year as I started taking school more seriously. I arrived at CBU at a special time when professors like Brother Tony Pisano, Dr. Jim McKee, Dr. Vincent O’Neill, and many others were so compelling and interested in our success that slow pokes like me couldn’t help but start learning.”
Joe Birch came to Memphis from New Jersey in 1974, having enrolled at CBU without ever having visited the campus or the city — “We even got out the World Book Encyclopedia to look up where Memphis was located,” he told the Memphis Downtowner — and he’s been here ever since. Today, Joe may well be one of the most well-known and recognized alumni that CBU can proudly claim, due to his nightly appearance on WMC television news for the past four decades. But he actually began his career there as an intern, when he was a CBU senior majoring in English in 1978. He accepted a full-time job offer as a reporter on the day he graduated with a BA in English. He became the station’s news anchor in 1983.
During his distinguished career as a broadcast journalist, Joe has been professionally recognized with an Emmy Award and has been inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame and the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. But perhaps lesser known to his public audience, Joe has also reaped numerous rewards — both personally and from local service organizations — for his selfless devotion to serving his community.
When Joe was a student in the 1970s, the term “Lasallian” was not as commonly used as it is today. But the mission and principles that define “Lasallian” today obviously still had a strong influence on him.
In 1996, Joe cofounded a 5K to benefit St. Patrick Community Outreach, a nonprofit agency affiliated with St. Patrick Catholic Church that serves children and families in 38126, the most impoverished zip code in Memphis. Originally called the Gibson Guitar/Baldwin Piano 5K Run-Walk and most recently the Orion 5K Run-Walk, the event has attracted thousands of participants over the years to benefit St. Patrick’s efforts to feed and clothe those in need and to help build a just and equitable community. He also regularly serves as emcee of Alzheimer’s Association events, including its annual Memory Walk.
Joe has also volunteered weekly for the Meals on Wheels program of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) for more than 20 years, delivering hot, nutritious lunches to seniors at their homes. MIFA created the Joe Birch Media Award to honor those who use the tools of communications to enlighten the community about the Association’s myriad of services, and Joe was the first recipient of the award.
He has also been honored by many other local civic organizations in recognition of his service to those in need — the Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year from the Association of Fund Raising Professionals; the Ave Maria Award for years of service to the Ave Maria Nursing Home; the Humanitarian of the Year Award from Diversity Memphis; the St. Peter the Rock Award from St. Peter Villa for his service to the nursing home and rehabilitation center; and community service awards from the Memphis Chapter of UNICO and Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. He has participated in the Memphis Marathon, a fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since its inception in 2002, and he has been recognized by the hospital as one of its top fundraisers, raising more than $100,000 for the children it serves.
Joe has also been recognized by his alma mater. He was named Trustee Emeritus after serving on the CBU Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2014, and he was awarded the Maurelian Medal in recognition of his significant contributions through service to CBU and the greater Memphis community. In 2013, he was formally honored by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools for having served Lasallian ideals in an extraordinary way and was made an affiliated member of the Institute — thus he may be publicly recognized as one of the Brothers and use the abbreviation following his name: Joseph F. Birch Jr., AFSC. Joe is one of only 44 Memphians who have been named an Affiliate of the De La Salle Christian Brothers in the past 150 years.
Joe says that the true highlight of his student career at CBU was meeting his wife, Robyn Davis Birch (BSBA ’77). “I met my Robyn at CBU in 1974, when we were both freshmen,” Joe says. “Like many romantic comedies, she found her future mate underwhelming at first glance. She was an A+ super-scholar; I was fighting the good fight of the C+ student who was consumed with college fun, shenanigans, and freedom from parental supervision. Sparks started flying in our astronomy class in 1977, when we started staring at the stars together under the tutelage of Dr. Johnny Holmes, professor and former dean of the School of Sciences.”
Robyn and Joe have two sons, who are both CBU alums: Joseph Birch III (BSBA Finance ’11) and Matthew Birch (English for Corporate Communications ’14). As a member of the CBU Board of Trustees at the time, Joe was on stage during both of his sons’ graduations and had the opportunity to step forward and present both with their diplomas. Like his dad, Joseph also met his wife at CBU, Natalie Hurt Birch (Biology ’11, MSPAS ’15).
CBU laid a bedrock foundation of academic excellence for our family’s future.