Obituary: William Edward Kirke Jr.

Defense industry veteran, card player, lifelong baseball fan

William Edward Kirke, Jr. died March 18 at home in Fort Bragg, California, where he had lived for the past 18 years. He was 82.

Born in Ludington, Michigan in 1936 to Elnora and William Edward Kirke, Sr., Bill grew up as an only child after his younger sister Jeanne died when she was three years old. 

As a youngster, he developed a lifelong love for baseball, music, card and board games and dogs. He mastered the baritone saxophone and played in the Scottville Clown Band, but his favorite thing was baseball. 

A tall left-hander with bad eyesight who threw hard, he hurled six no-hitters in his senior year at Scottville High School, earning a tryout with the Chicago Cubs. After being sent to the minor leagues, he accepted a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he majored in engineering physics, proudly played in the UM band and was in the chess club.

He graduated in 1959 and moved to Southern California after accepting an offer from General Dynamics. During this time he won a number of awards in bridge and poker tournaments and with Toastmasters.

At General Dynamics he met Theresa Dwyer. They married in 1963 and made their home in Claremont, where they raised two children and a number of dogs, and he managed Little League teams. He took advantage of being in Southern California, hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains and in national parks on cross-country trips back to Michigan.

He continued to work despite being afflicted with myasthenia gravis, which he fought with strength and stubbornness from 1989 until his death, defying all prognoses he received.

The couple moved to a Victorian near the ocean after he retired after more than 30 years in the defense industry, realizing his wife’s lifelong dream. In Fort Bragg, he enjoyed walking his dog Arae on the beach, regular poker games, playing cribbage (he won tournaments qualifying for the national championship into his late 70s), watching Major League Baseball, and most of all visits and calls from his children and grandchildren, in whom he took immense pride.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Theresa; daughter Jeanne of Eureka, California; son John and daughter-in-law Teresa of Lafayette, California; and grandchildren Shannon of Eureka, and Isabel, Jackson, Alessandra and Tessa of Lafayette.

A service took place March 28 in Mendocino, California. 

The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation at (click on “Donate Now”), or by check to 355 Lexington Ave., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10017.


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