Edward P. Kirven

Below is the resolution John Bordley wrote for the Faculty Meeting following his death, followed by the eulogy Jim Lowe gave at his memorial service in All Saints' Chapel.

Edward Preuit Kirven: alumnus, chemist, faculty colleague, mentor, gardener, raconteur, Southern gentleman

Alumnus. Ed Kirven graduated in 1968 with a degree in chemistry. His was the last class to go through Sewanee as an all male school and the last class to take all its science courses in Carnegie. His chemistry teachers included the legendary David Camp and Bill Guenther and a young new faculty member – Jim Lowe.

Chemist. Ed Kirven loved chemistry, and although his main interest was organic chemistry, he was well versed in all the disciplines. He could coax along a precipitation reaction in general chemistry; he dealt easily with the laboratory work and accompanying theory in analytical chemistry. He had a particular knack with instruments–getting them started, keeping them going, and resuscitating them when they died.

Faculty colleague. Ed Kirven returned to Sewanee in 1976 as a faculty member. In addition to teaching courses in general chemistry and organic chemistry, he introduced a new course that dealt with mechanisms in both organic and inorganic chemistry and another that dealt with spectroscopy in physical chemistry. During his thirty years at Sewanee he taught a greater variety of chemistry courses than anyone else ever has.

Mentor. Ed Kirven spent many hours talking with students. The topic could have concerned a current class he was teaching, chemistry classes in general, or about the premed curriculum and the process of applying to medical school. Equally possible would be discussions about social life and family situations. Mentoring took place in his office, in the hallway, in the lab, or at one of the outdoor spots alluded to by one of the signs he would place on his door, “Up in Flames!” or “Down in Smoke”.

Gardener. David Camp not only taught Ed chemistry, he also taught Ed how to grow a large vegetable and flower garden. Ed was an avid gardener. During the week he gave away flowers to friends and his church; on Saturdays he sold flowers and vegetables at the gardeners’ market. Ed often said that you only needed to lock your car in Sewanee during the summer. If you didn’t, someone was likely to put a bucket of zucchini in the back seat.

Raconteur. More than just about anything else, Ed Kirven loved to tell stories. Sometimes they were short stories or jokes; other times they were long, involved tales. But once he got going, it was often hard to stop him!

Southern gentleman. In all the best aspects of the term, Ed Kirven was a Southern gentleman. He was soft-spoken. He dressed well and often wore a bow tie on special occasions. He appreciated fine beverages. He liked to go to parties, and he never missed alumni gatherings at Homecoming. He could ‘work the crowd’ and schmooze with the best of them. He helped anyone who asked for help, and he volunteered to help when he sensed a need.

In recognition of his many contributions to this institution and to the larger community, I hereby move that this faculty acknowledge the life of Edward Preuit Kirven by a rising vote. May he rest in peace.
— John L. Bordley, Jr.


Remarks at a Memorial Service for Edward Preuit Kirven

Good afternoon. My name is Jim Lowe. I am here because Ed Kirven called me. When he was diagnosed with cancer in May, he asked me to consider teaching his courses while he underwent a strenuous treatment. If all had gone well Ed and Mary Ann would have vacationed in Hawaii in February. That was not to be.

It is particularly fitting that we gather here today to remember Edward Preuit Kirven. Family, college friends, students from many generations, faculty colleagues, friends from the staff and community are all here to celebrate his life. At an earlier funeral in Cowan, Ed’s life in his church and community was celebrated. I want to speak now to the forty-two years that that I have known Ed at this university.

When I arrived at Sewanee as a new faculty member, a soft-spoken young man from Linden, Alabama, was in my organic chemistry class. He had a beard, most unusual here in the 1960s, and he occasionally read the Village Voice. He exposed my Midwestern-trained ear to new phrases – such as second cousin, twice-removed.

Ed was an exceptional student in organic chemistry. Late that first year, I saw a set of notes lying in the chemistry library. They were virtually identical, although in a neater hand, to the notes I had lectured from. Later in what might best be described as an “outhouse” laboratory assignment from a new and inexperienced instructor, I asked students to classify three unknown compounds over two weeks. Ed not only classified the compounds, he identified and prepared derivatives of each.

Before leaving my memories of Ed as a student, I should add that his wife Mary Ann stayed in our home when she came as his date to the then all-male college. Our three-year-old daughter Sarah was so impressed by her visits (and the discovery of makeup) that she demanded to be called Mary Ann for almost a year.

Ed Kirven was one of the best experimental scientists I have known. In his first year of graduate study at the University of Minnesota, where he went on to earn his doctoral degree, he was chosen to be the teaching assistant for the advanced laboratory course. He later taught two years at Emory University where his assignment was to design and implement a new curriculum for their organic laboratory program. At Sewanee, Ed designed experiments to introduce students to new instrumentation, and he kept older instruments running far beyond their expected life times. When an interruption in staffing occurred, it was Ed who volunteered to teach an unfamiliar and demanding course. Even this fall when Ed had little energy, I saw him sitting in the lab patiently tweaking the controls of the gas chromatograph so that students could use it in upcoming labs.

When Ed joined the faculty at Sewanee, I continued to learn much from him – both in chemistry and in the traditions of this University. As some former students may remember, Ed even introduced a tradition of his own. On Monday mornings following party-weekends —times when an occasional student came to class with a queasy stomach — Ed would wear bright-colored, garish-looking ties to class.

Ed Kirven’s great gifts to this college were friendship and generosity of time and spirit. Ed was an advocate for students. He would stay late to help a student solve a homework problem or to better understand an experiment. If a student was having personal or family difficulties, Ed was often the person to know and care. He took time to be with people — in his office, in the hall, over a cup of coffee, or over a glass of wine. He told good stories, and he enjoyed listening to stories told by others.

As John Bordley and I were returning from our last visit with Ed, John remarked that he knew of two or three people in Sewanee who would always come when he needed help – no questions asked. Ed was one of them. I suspect that many of us in Sewanee have called on Ed or Mary Ann for help. Sometimes that help need not be requested. My wife and I once had a contentious few days concerning a plumbing problem that just seemed to grow. She was stubbornly determined to fix it herself; I wanted to call a plumber; and we had stopped speaking. I clearly remember the Saturday morning that Ed walked into our house, toolbox in hand, and marched to the kitchen. From the living room I yelled, “Ed Kirven, do not help her!” He replied, “Hush Jim, just sit down and be calm.” Domestic tranquility was restored. That sense of helping others continued to the end. At our last visit, Ed charged John Bordley to take up the care of our former colleague, Bill Guenther.

There remains so much that is left unsaid — images of Ed Kirven in blue jeans and a flannel shirt driving a pickup truck to deliver vegetables from the garden; of him setting up and running a pine-wood derby with cub scouts; of him greeting a returning alum with a smile. Ed was one those people who makes Sewanee a very special institution and a very special community. He was certainly such a person for me.

What a blessing it is that we can gather together here to remember Ed Kirven, to celebrate his contributions to this institution and community, and to say goodbye to our friend.

Back to Alumni