Published 12:38 pm Friday, May 16, 2008
In choosing her final residence in the Boston area, close to a number of her nieces, nephews, and their families, as well as her beloved Wellesley College, she spent the last decade of her life in New England ‐ a part of the country where she had many strong connections and pleasant memories. She would have been 99 years old on June 3, 2008.
Katherine was born in Bronxville, N.Y., the oldest of the three children of Harry N. Kirby and Elsa Greene Kirby. Throughout her life she was very devoted to her younger brothers, Davis Greene Kirby and Vance Nathaniel Kirby (who have predeceased her). Following the path of her mother (Wellesley, 1903), Katherine entered Wellesley College, where she became known as &dquo;Kay,&dquo; majored in history and art, joined a sorority, played on the tennis team, and formed life-long friendships. She graduated in the class of 1932, and then spent a year in Florence, Italy on a Wellesley fellowship program, studying and traveling. She returned to the States to take a number of interesting jobs in New York City &dquo;running into Wellesley friends on every corner.&dquo; She traveled around the world in 1936 with her parents, and travel became a life-long passion for her.
At the start of World War II she was one of a specially selected class of 20 young women to be trained in engineering at Columbia University to replace men fighting at the front in the important job of designing aircraft. She became a production engineer at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., working on their famous carrier-based fighter plane, the Hellcat.
After the war Katherine returned to Columbia to get a master&squo;s degree in counseling and personnel administration and then took a position as director of the Hannah Harrison School in Washington, D.C., a vocational school for women who needed training to enter the workforce in order to support themselves and their families. In 1953, with the death of her father, Katherine took over the care of her mother, moving to Evanston, Ill. to be near her brothers and her six nieces and nephews living in Winnetka. She became the Chicago-area admissions director for Ripon College and subsequently for the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. In 1974, she retired to Tryon, where her mother died in 1978 at the age of 98. Katherine embraced retirement, involving herself in a number of community activities, and pursuing her favorite hobbies: golf, gardening, reading, and travel. She was inducted into the Second Wind Hall of Fame in 1987.
Wherever she lived, Katherine formed wonderful friendships. She took special pleasure in participating in all the Wellesley reunions of her class of 1932 ‐ especially upon her return to the Boston area at the end of her life. She was extremely generous to her family, her friends, and her community. She and her brothers funded the building of the Kirby Learning Center at Illinois College, in memory of their father who had been a graduate in 1901. In 1992, Katherine and her brother Davis established The Kirby Endowment Fund to support various civic and charitable organizations in the greater Tryon area ‐ Polk County, North Carolina. She also donated generously to Wellesley College.
Katherine leaves her six nieces and nephews: Adalaide Kirby Morris, Clare Kirby, Ellen Kirby Cummings, Kate Page Kirby, John Logan Kirby, and David Vance Kirby; 13 grandnieces and grandnephews; 2 great-grandnephews and 1 great-grandniece; and many devoted friends. Donations in her name may be made to the Wellesley College Scholarship Fund in Wellesley, Mass., or to the Polk County Community Foundation in Tryon.
‐ paid obituary