Kirby Attwell of Houston and Wimberley, Texas died at the age of 86 on the morning of July 6, 2021 at his home in Houston. He passed away surrounded by love in the company of his family and his dear golden retriever, Zia. The cause of death was pneumonia.
Kirby was born in Houston on June 1, 1935, the son of Khleber Van Zandt and Lucille McAshan Attwell. He attended Houston’s public schools, graduating from Lamar High School in 1953. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas in 1957 with a B.A. in economics. In 1960, he received his MBA from Harvard Business School. Kirby served active duty in the United States Air Force from 1953 to 1956 and remained in the Air Force Reserves from 1957 until 1963.
During his time in Austin, Kirby was the captain of the varsity golf team and President of Kappa Sigma fraternity. Throughout his three years of playing golf for the Longhorns, he never lost a match, a remarkable achievement that prompted mention by his coach, the legendary Harvey Penick, in both The Little Red Book (The Grip) and The Little Blue Book (Advising Kirby). Kirby “Putt-well” continued to play golf competitively throughout his life, winning the club championship at River Oaks Country Club eleven times, the last time, incredibly, at 64 years of age. He shares the course record on the “old course,” and in 2015, the club championship trophy was named in his honor.
The discipline, determination, grit, and intensity that helped make Kirby such a successful golfer were also evident throughout his extensive business career. Kirby spent over twenty years as an executive at Lincoln Finance, the last eight as President and Chief Executive Officer. After the acquisition of that company by another, he went on to run several other companies including Supply Corporation, American Packing and Gasket, and Travis Enterprises. He was an active member of the YPO, the Young Presidents’ Organization, and remained active for many years with his YPO Forum, which he referred to as the “Old Farts Forum”. He enjoyed the Harvard Business School Club of Houston and gave back to the business community by volunteering with the Houston Angel Fund and as a judge at the Jones School at Rice University’s Business Plan Competition for more than 20 years. He was a long time member of the Board of Trustees of Texas Children’s Hospital, and he served for a period as its Treasurer. He also served as a Director of the Center for Recovering Families and was designated a lifetime member of the board of the Houston Council on Recovery.
In 1965, Kirby met and married the love of his life, Nancy McGrory, from Carney’s Point, New Jersey, and they remained inseparable until Nancy’s death in 2011, during which time they raised their son and daughter. Kirby is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Khleber Attwell, Jr. and Toni Cannon Attwell of Houston, by his son, Kirby Andrew Attwell of Wimberley and by his daughter, Meredith Attwell Baker (James), of Arlington, VA.
In retirement, Kirby became an accomplished artist and an award-winning watercolorist. He exhibited his work across the United States and, had COVID not interfered, was set to show internationally in Spain in 2020. During the pandemic, Kirby spent his time in Wimberley, Texas, at the family’s home near the confluence of Cypress Creek and the Blanco River. His days were filled with painting, walking Zia through the Square and enjoying many art classes and Bible studies with friends via Zoom. In his later life, Kirby’s passion turned to philanthropy. He supported and volunteered his service to many local charitable projects and organizations throughout Texas, including Emilyann Theatre in Wimberley, Bella’s Buddies (a service dog training and placement organization) in Buffalo, Texas, the Center for Recovering Families and Loving Lamar supporting homeless students in Houston, The University of Texas College of Fine Arts in Austin and many, many others.
Kirby deeply loved his family, dogs, mountains, long hikes, blue skies and green grass. He was adventurous and loved travel. He was a wonderful neighbor, a thoughtful patron and beloved mentor to many younger people throughout his life. He was a voracious reader of histories and biographies, and his mantra for all of us was “take action and do good things.” A winsome twinkle danced in Kirby’s eyes whenever he spoke about anything that inspired or fascinated him. His children carry on that inimitable spark, the brightest expression of which through Kirby was always for them and Nancy.
A private interment was held at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, and a memorial service will be held in September at the Church of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, of which Kirby was a life-long member.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor and memory may be made to Bella’s Buddies at www.bellasbuddiesinc.org.