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Westminster icon dies

Westminster icon dies

January 3rd, 2019 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Pat Kirby, 75, was an enthusiastic member of the Westminster College family for more than 40 years. An avid traveler, he recruited many international students to the college. Kirby died Saturday following a serious illness.

Beloved Westminster College supporter and former employee Patrick "Pat" Kirby died Saturday at age 75.

Kirby worked at Westminster for 41 years before his retirement in 2015. His LinkedIn page still describes him as a "roving ambassador" for the college. Colleagues credit him with making Westminster a more diverse place during his time as director of international student recruiting, one of several roles he held at Westminster.

"(The year) 2018 will be remembered among our Westminster family as the year of lost legends, because Pat Kirby was truly one of the legendary figures who made Westminster the special place it is," said Dr. Fletcher Lamkin, Westminster president. "His enthusiasm for living was an inspiration, and while he leaves us much richer for having known him, we all feel the void of having one of Westminster's most loyal sons taken from our midst."

Lamkin said Kirby's passing followed several years of battling serious illness. Kirby is survived by his wife, Lucy, and sons Shawn, Bryan, John and David. A private committal service has been planned through Debo Funeral Home in Fulton. On Feb. 16 at 2 p.m., the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury will host a memorial service, according to Kirby's obituary.

Kirby was born in Monterey, California, on Sept. 11, 1943, but grew up in Iowa. He completed his schooling by earning a doctorate in human behavior at San Diego's U.S. International University in 1971. In 1974, he took a job as director of Student Life by Chapman College of CA for their Semester at Sea program, which consisted of a sea voyage around South America, West Africa and the Mediterranean.

Kirby told the Fulton Sun in 2015 that the whirlwind trip sparked his interest in international students and foreign countries.

Missing the changing of seasons, Kirby took a job as Westminster's dean of student life in 1975, remaining in the position until 1995. He brought his characteristic enthusiasm to the role, ruthlessly ferreting out forbidden kegs at fraternities and seeking to improve student life on campus.

Bill Young, Westminster's college chaplain until his retirement at 2010, was hired the same year as Kirby and described him as a good friend.

"What comes first to mind is treat everyone with respect and dignity — something we could all use more of these days," Young said Wednesday. "Students did some crazy things and he always dealt with them as individuals, even when he had to give consequences. He never gave up on any student."

In 1979, the university decided to begin admitting women — a choice Kirby strongly supported.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is being involved in the decision to go co-ed,"Kirby said in 2015. "Having women on campus enriched the experience and made it more attractive to alumni. One of our alums had five daughters he sent to school here."

In a 2015 tribute to Kirby, Westminster trustee Heather Biehl recalled an episode from her own time in college. One night, she and her roommate returned to their dorm from a cross country meet to find all their furniture arrayed in the lobby. The pair were so worn out they simply collapsed into bed right there.

When morning rolled around, Kirby strolled in with 20 suited trustees on a tour meant to demonstrate the dorms' overcrowding issues and needs for repair. Not skipping a beat, he indicated the snoozing students and told trustees, "As you can see, some of our finest students are even forced to use the lobbies as their rooms due to space constraints." That settled the funding issue.

He was also known for promising to buy a Coke for any student whose name he forgot.

"Pat knew everybody, every student by name, hometown, their family," Young said. "I don't know how he kept all those names. If he saw an alum 20 years later, he remembered them."

Kirby was Westminster's director of alumni and parent relations from 1995-99, then the vice president and dean of enrollment services until 2007. He then served as the coordinator of international student admissions until his 2015 retirement. He watched eight presidents of Westminster come and go and saw campus grow more colorful and lively, partially through his own efforts.

"(In 1975), the environment was pretty traditional after where I'd been," he said in 2015. "All white, male, preppy types. They were great kids, just not very diverse."

Kirby developed a relationship with University World Colleges, international schools for young people from areas of political unrest, located in New Mexico and Canada.

"I ended up having contacts everywhere. I usually stayed with families of students," Kirby said. "And after students got here, they usually encouraged me to go to the schools in their home countries, telling me about other students they knew."

He traveled everywhere from Honduras to Mozambique to Nepal, spreading his enthusiasm for Westminster along the way — despite speaking only "American English, British English and Pig Latin," by his own admission.

"What he did for the international program is amazing," Young said. "When most people thought about retirement, he was traveling the world, bringing

Even after Kirby's retirement, he remained active in the Westminster community, Lamkin said.

"Cindy's and my first welcome back to Westminster was a very enjoyable afternoon at a Blue Jay football game with Pat and Lucy," he added.

Young said Kirby will be missed by all.

"During all my years at Westminster, there was no one who did more for the college and who loved the college more," he said. "When I first came, there was a person very dedicated to college who we called Mr. Westminster, Jack Marshall, who passed away (in 2011). I would say you could call Pat 'Mr. Westminster,' too."