My friend, Ken Kinnett
I first met Ken Kinnett and his wife Loyd in 1987 at Way of a Warrior, an intensive weeklong workshop that took place outside of Dahlonega, Georgia near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. During the week, we went whitewater rafting on the Chattooga River (where Deliverance was filmed), participated in a ropes course, and on the final night, camped solo with just a plastic tarp, water bottle and sleeping bag.
As I settled all alone into my makeshift shelter, listening to the solitary sound of the nearby river as the last rays of sunlight filtered through the forest canopy, I was momentarily overwhelmed by what some Eastern mystics refer to as an ecstasy of unity—a feeling of connectedness, as if I, all humans, all living things, the entire universe was connected by some invisible web. And I realized in that moment that the southern Appalachian Mountains were where I was destined to be.
Before we left the workshop for home (home being a relative term for me at this point in my life since I’d just been fired from my job in Orlando and was still separated from my wife in Texas), Loyd suggested that I visit her and Ken at their mountaintop home near Hendersonville, North Carolina. I went for a weekend and stayed almost three weeks.
Ken and Loyd were convivial hosts. We ate delicious home-cooked meals, shared wisdom from Way of a Warrior, laughed and cried together, and enjoyed panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the deck of their rustic log home. Ken, a former Episcopal priest who had graduated from Sewanee a decade or so before me, had an irreverent sense of humor and infectious laugh balanced by Loyd’s warmth and openheartedness.
I traveled around western North Carolina during my stay with the Kinnetts and resolutely decided I would put down roots there. As I explored Asheville, I stopped by Stone Soup, a vegetarian restaurant, for a snack where I saw a handmade flyer on the community bulletin board—”Wanted: Director of Marketing and Communications, North Carolina Outward Bound School.” I surreptitiously looked around, ripped the flyer from the bulletin board, and made my way to the nearest pay phone. I came close to landing the job but horseshoes, hand grenades, and all that. Nonetheless, every few years I would venture back to Ken and Loyd’s to savor the southern Appalachians and deepen my friendship with them.
When Shonnie and I decided to move from Austin to Asheville in 1997, Ken and Loyd were our sole friends in that part of the world. While we were happy with our decision to relocate, we deeply missed our Austin companions, but Ken and Loyd became fast friends. We visited them almost weekly during the first year or two, playing Dictionary, watching movies (including Mars Attacks! “Ack, ack!”), participating in their Back to Bliss couples workshop and celebrating my sixtieth birthday there. I’m not sure what we’d have done but for this place of camaraderie and love during our early years in Asheville.
Through the years, Ken played a huge role in our lives. In 1999, he, along with Howard Hanger, officiated at our wedding at Bend of Ivy Lodge outside Asheville. In 2010, Ken and Howard baptized our darling daughter, Gracelyn, at Jubilee. A few years later, he and Loyd moved to a retirement community in Atlanta, and despite the fact we’d recently only gotten together a couple of times a year, their departure from North Carolina left a void in our lives that has yet to be filled.
We heard of Ken’s passing via Loyd’s September 26 Facebook post: “We just lost heart of my heart. Ken has no more pain only joy. He died sweetly with ease and grace.”
Shonnie responded via Facebook for both of us: “Thank you Ken for being such a dear loving friend and for being such an integral part of two of the best parts of our lives—our wedding and our daughter’s life (her baptism). I’m so grateful to have known you and Loyd—you are two of my biggest teachers for how to live life generously, lovingly, joyfully, and forgivingly. I will miss laughing with you, pondering life’s mysteries, trying to bluff each other at games of Dictionary, and falling asleep watching movies on y’all’s couch while you spring chickens stayed up late. Ack! Ack! I love you, Ken. I love you, Loyd.”
I’m proud to have called Ken my friend. He was authentic, forthright, generous, thoughtful, kind and loving, and he stood for justice, peace and compassion for all. His obituary was published in the September 30, 2015 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Reverend Kenneth Kinnett, son of Frank M. Kinnett and Joyce Kinnett, died September 26, 2015 after a brief illness. Born December 25, 1934, and raised in Atlanta he graduated from North Fulton High School. In 1956, he graduated from the University of the South with a BA in History. After University he served as an officer in the United States Air Force during the Cold War. He then joined his family’s insurance company, The London Agency. In 1966 he returned to Sewanee to Seminary and became an Episcopal priest. He served in many of Atlanta’s parishes. He was the first Vicar of St. Gregory the Great in Athens, GA. His Bishop Bennett Sims, encouraged him to start the Church of the Covenant dedicated solely to the service of Atlanta’s poor. The church established Grant Park Health Center whose mission was to serve the Atlanta impoverished. It is still open today ensuring equal medical care to all. Always an advocate for social reform, he was a member of the NAACP, worked with the Civil Rights Movement, worked toward ending the Vietnam War, the Women’s Rights Movement and Beyond War, to name a few. He was fortunate to work with such luminaries as Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Father Daniel Berrigan. Ken is survived by his wife of 59 years, Loyd Nichols Kinnett, eldest son, Brian Kinnett, son David Kinnett and his wife Breeze and their children Ezra, Adrian, Lily and Morgan. Daughter Anne Kinnett Nichols and her husband Tim Nichols and daughter Hannah-Rose. His brother, Frank Kinnett and wife Judy. Their two children, Kristi Roche and husband Geddings and their children Kathryn and Lauren. Son Grant Kinnett and his wife Sandy and their children Grant Jr. and Mitchell. Also his beloved dog, Charlie. A memorial service will be held at All Saints Episcopal Church, 634 West Peachtree Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30308 at 2:00 PM on Thursday, October 1 with a reception to follow at the Parish Hall. In lieu of flowers donations in his honor may be made to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship National Organization, PO Box 15, Claysburg, PA 16625.
May peace be with you, Ken. You live on in my heart.