Students recall Victoria College professor who pushed them to think

To say Keith P. Kirkpatrick was just attentive would be an understatement.

The late Victoria College sociology professor, who asked as many questions as he helped answer, left his mark on the institution and at home, friends and colleagues said. He pushed students and colleagues alike to challenge themselves to broaden their understanding of the world and make the best decisions on an institutional level while simultaneously quenching his thirst for knowledge and being a big brain for his sons.

Kirkpatrick died June 16 after complications with liver disease. He was 56.

Kirkpatrick earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology in the early 1980s from Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University. He later earned his doctorate in sociology from Colorado State University in 1992.

At VC, in addition to being a professor, he served as a dean, division chairman and department coordinator.

Outspoken, passionate, down to earth -- all are characteristics students, family and former colleagues used to remember Kirkpatrick, who had taught at the college since 1994.

VC student John Pearce, who took Kirkpatrick's introductory sociology course in 2011, said the late professor impressed upon his students the prevalence of social and cultural diversity around the world.

"No one is superior to the other," Pearce said Kirkpatrick taught the students.

Kirkpatrick also championed using good data and evidence before making decisions, noted Michael Hummel, a retired VC professor and former Faculty Senate president.

"He was extremely bright," Hummel said. "He was especially good at analyzing data. His training as a sociologist prepared him for that. That was his greatest strength."

Hummel remembered his strength was put to use when it came to salary data and streamlining course assessments.

He was a man who liked to push buttons, said Ed Byerly, a VC associate professor of history.

He pushed his students to "challenge the world to look at society in a way they might have never thought of," Byerly said. He recalled his former colleague wore T-shirts promoting Che Guevara and Karl Marx.

"These were designed to prompt students to think and raise questions," Byerly said, adding that at times, some students weren't receptive to learning that way or accepting alternative views.

VC student Kelly Holford's personality mirrored Kirkpatrick's in the classroom. New to the U.S. three years ago, Holford was struggling to adjust after the move from the United Kingdom.

In Kirkpatrick's classroom, she found relief in his approach and insights classmates presented.

"Being in his class made me realize that there were people in this area who didn't think the same," she said.

Her professor's approach made her realize that she "wasn't that weird," and she could make it in this part of the country.

"I didn't tell him that, which maybe I should have," Holford said.

Kirkpatrick was no different at home, said Anthony Kirkpatrick, his 21-year-old son, who said his father had a passion for music and helping people.

He demonstrated that on many occasions, his son said. When Anthony Kirkpatrick didn't know something, his father at first wouldn't know how to help, he said, but that often would change right away.

"The next day, he'd come back with an answer," his son said with a laugh. "It turns out he spent the night before trying to find the knowledge to help me."

One of the late professor's lasting lessons to his son was to have patience, he said, adding that his father was fond of sitting back and seeing people progress.

"You have to sit back and wait," his son said. "You can't rush something to grow."

His son learned that lesson as a child, when he tried to take up his father's hobby of growing chili plants. Anthony Kirkpatrick remembered being impatient about it.

"He taught me to step back and look at a problem from a distance," he said.

The late professor, who had been ill, underwent a liver transplant in hopes of adding years to his life. At first, it seemed that all was well, his son remembered, but his father's health soon deteriorated as he experienced kidney failure. He passed quickly and unexpectedly, he said.

Now, Anthony Kirkpatrick has his memories, including always working on something as a form of therapy in difficult times.

"Whenever we had hard times, we found something to do," he said. "So, that's what I've been doing."