In Memoriam: Henry Lee Kinnier

Daily Progress obituary

May 18, 2009 — Henry Lee Kinnier, 93, one of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science's oldest and most loyal alumni, faculty members and lifelong supporters, died May 6 at his Charlottesville home. 

Born in 1915 in Lynchburg, Kinnier received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from U.Va. in 1942, followed by a graduate degree from the University of Michigan. 

He served with the Navy as a dry-docking officer at the Norfolk Navy Yard and later as an officer-in-charge of floating pontoon drydocks at Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines. Following a brief time with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Kinnier returned to the Engineering School as a member of the faculty in 1946. 

In 1948, he was one of five men to found the Engineering Alumni Association, whose primary focus was to facilitate communications between alumni. Kinnier served as secretary of the association and was key to producing a print directory of all living engineering alumni, the first of its kind. Five years after its founding, the association grew into the Virginia Engineering Foundation, with a new focus of setting an agenda for the Engineering School's future and raising funds for the school. Kinnier was one of the earliest members of the foundation.

During his time as a faculty member, Kinnier received a number of awards, including the Raven Award, the IMP Faculty Award, the Mac Wade Award, the U.Va. Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award and the Virginia Engineering Foundation Distinguished Service Award. He was a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of the Seven Society, the Raven Society, Omicron Delta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, Theta Tau, Kappa Alpha and the Colonnade Club and was a lifetime member of the SEAS Trustees. 

Kinnier was a dedicated teacher, and he described U.Va.  students as  "enthusiastic and respectful." 

"They wanted to be here," Kinnier said, "and they often stayed after graduation and became part of the teaching faculty. 

"In 1970, we had women as students for the first time, and that was a good thing. The women made a good place get even better." 

"Kinnier inspired many generations of civil engineering students with his uniquely charming and effective teaching style, which kept his students both entertained and stimulated to learn more," said Chip Perry, a 1975 alumnus.  

"Beyond the classroom, Kinner gave all of us an example to follow as a true gentleman in the best tradition of the University," Perry said. "He had a heart of gold for his students and he dedicated his professional life to them. As one of his students who treasured all my moments with him, I'll always appreciate his kind and helpful guidance and support, and I'll always remember my times with him as being among the highlights of my years at U.Va." 

Kinnier was appointed by several governors to terms on the State Board of Engineering Examiners, and he received the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers Outstanding Service Award in 1963 and 1969 and the National Council of Engineering Examiners Distinguished Service Award in 1970. 

Following his retirement as professor emeritus in 1984, 200 former students, colleagues and friends established the Henry L. Kinnier Professorship in Civil Engineering. Later, one of his former students established the Henry L. Kinnier Scholarship for Undergraduate Students in Civil Engineering in his honor.

Kinnier was also a generous supporter of the Engineering School during his lifetime. 

"We must provide support because the state isn't able to fully support the school's budget. I have always done what I could to support the Engineering School because I am thankful for what the school has meant to me," he said. 

Memorial gifts in his honor may be made to the Henry L. Kinnier Scholarship Fund, Virginia Engineering Foundation, P. O. Box 400256, Charlottesville, VA 22904; or to Westminster Presbyterian Church, 190 Rugby Road, Charlottesville, VA  22903.

He was preceded in death by Frances Williams Kinnier, his wife of 62 years. Survivors include daughters Elizabeth Hiles and Anne Driscoll of Richmond, Va., five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

— By Josie Loyd