Dr. Albert Dennis Kirwan's election to the interim presidency of the
University of Kentucky in 1968 was the culmination of a 30-year career
spent at his alma mater in a variety of capacities---teaching, coaching
and administrative. Born in Louisville in 1904, he received his primary
education in the city's public schools and was graduated from Louisville
Male High School in 1922. He received a baccalaureate degree from the
University of Kentucky in 1926 and LL.B. and Master of Arts degrees
from the University of Louisville in 1929 ad 1944, respectively.
While a student at UK, Kirwan lettered in football and track and
served as captain of the football team his senior year. Upon graduation
from the University he taught and coached in Louisville at Male
(1927-31) and at DuPont Manual (1931-37) high schools. In 1931 he
married Elizabeth Lewis Heil, of Louisville; the couple had two
sons-Albert, Jr. and William E. III ("Brit") (currently
president of the University of Maryland).
In 1938 "Ab" Kirwan returned to his collegiate alma mater
as head football coach. The first Kentucky alumnus to hold the coaching
job, his teams compiled a record of 24 wins, 28 losses, and four
ties. Later in his career he was to serve as chairman of the Infractions
Committee of the National Collegiate Athletics Association and as
a member of the Executive Committee of the Southeastern Conference.
He retired from coaching in 1945 to pursue a doctorate in History,
which he received from Duke University in 1947.
From 1947 to1950 Kirwan served as Dean of Men of the University
of Kentucky and from 1950 to 1954, as Dean of Students. At his own
request in 1954 he was relieved of his administrative duties and
was appointed Professor of History; he devoted full time to classroom
teaching until 1960, when he was named Dean of the Graduate School.
Dr. Kirwan's magnus opus-John J. Crittenden: The Struggle for the
Union, researched while Kirwan was on leave as a Guggenheim Fellow
in 1960-61 and published in 1962, received a $500 research award
from the UK Alumni Association, as well as the Charles S. Sydnor
Prize as the outstanding book on southern history for 1962-63. In
1966 he received, again from the Alumni Association, $500 in recognition
of superior teaching, an honor for which he was nominated by members
of the University's scholastic and leadership societies, and during
1966-67, after resigning the Graduate School deanship, taught as
a Fulbright Lecturer in American History at the University of Vienna.
In 1967 Kirwan was selected by his departmental colleagues as Hallam
Professor of History and was elected, as well, "Distinguished
Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences" for 1967-68.
He co-authored with Dr. Thomas D. Clark a second major work-The
South Since Appomattox: a Century of Regional Change, published
by Oxford University Press in 1967. Other books in the area of the
Civil War, his historiographical specialty, include Rednecks in
Revolt (1951), Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade (1956), and The
Confederacy, which he edited in 1959.
Upon the resignation of President John W. Oswald in 1968, Kirwan
was named a member of the joint faculty-trustee committee to nominate
a successor. In July of that year he was elected Interim President
of the University of Kentucky, occupying that position until August
of 1969. Serving at a time of campus unrest, in an essentially caretaking
capacity, and presiding over an "acting administration"
composed largely of interim administrators appointed by Kirwan himself;
he declared it his intention to maintain the programs initiated
by his predecessor. In the words of the September, 1969 Board of
Trustees resolution officially naming him retroactively "Seventh
President of the University of Kentucky"-"Dr. Kirwan brought
to the campus a feeling of serenity and peace, renewed confidence
and strengthened morale." He died suddenly of a heart attack
on November 30, 1971.
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