Special to The Dialog
The St. Thomas More Society banquet was a family affair May 20 when the group presented its Msgr. Paul Taggart-St. Thomas More Award to the unofficial law practice of Kirk, Kirk, Kirk, and Kirk. But the awardees – siblings William E. “Bill” Kirk III, Richard D. Kirk, and Susan Kirk-Ryan – felt their father, the late William E. Kirk Jr., was the real honoree.
“If you ask the three of us … the criteria for this St. Thomas More award simply and clearly describes our Dad,” former deputy attorney general Kirk-Ryan, 57, a hearing officer for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and member of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Parish in Greenville, said in accepting the award.
“No one surpassed him in integrity, intelligence, and dedication to his family.”
Bill Kirk, 61, vice president and general counsel for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware and parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington, felt the award was “a posthumous citation of my Dad’s career” as well as a recognition of his brother, sister and himself. “We felt like we were receiving it for him.”
William E. Kirk Jr., who died in 2007, retired as chief counsel of DuPont’s general legal division in 1984.
His children have been involved in the St. Thomas More Society since it formed in 1988. Dick Kirk, a partner at Bayard law firm since 2005, was the society’s founding president and Kirk-Ryan was a member of the executive committee. The group strives to apply Christian principles and to promote ethics in the legal profession.
Members are encouraged to follow the example of St. Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers. More was Chancellor for King Henry VIII until the king broke with Rome over issues of divorce and the supremacy of the pope. More maintained allegiance to the church on both issues, which led to his execution in 1535.
The award humbled Dick Kirk, 59, a parishioner of St. Helena’s Parish in Wilmington. “I was acutely aware of who the prize winners were and really felt, for myself, that I didn’t deserve to be ,on that list,” he said, “but I was happy for Susan and Bill, who did. … I said I would take it as an acknowledgement of my father, who would have been a very deserving recipient of the award, had he been living.”
He said he thought his brother and sister were more deserving.
“Bill and Susan have had a broader service to the community, where mine has been focused on the legal community and the St. Thomas More Society.” Bill Kirk has been involved in diocesan service, civic service and elsewhere, he said; Kirk-Ryan has served on the boards of Bayard House, a residential maternity home; and Ursuline Academy, among other volunteer service.
“Each of the Kirks is richly deserving of the St. Thomas More Award in his or her own right,” said Geoffrey Gamble, director of international government affairs for DuPont, in his introduction of the honorees at a dinner at the Wilmington Country Club. “But I am grateful that the Awards Committee decided to honor them together, because it gives me a brief opportunity to tell you why I think the Kirks are so very special.”
That, he said, stems not only from the kindness of their father, but for the combination of love and kindness the elder Kirk and his wife showed for their children.
F. Peter Conaty Jr., St. Thomas More Society president, said the decision to honor the three siblings “is clearly a reflection on” their parents.
The closeness of the family and their ties to the law were apparent in a 1958 photo, displayed at the banquet, of William E. Kirk Jr. with his three children, then ages 3 to 7, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. In 1984, the family returned to D.C., where their father moved his three lawyer-children’s admission to practice before the Supreme Court.
Sunday’s banquet marked another meeting of the “family firm.” Even if the founding partner wasn’t there in person, he was represented by his partner, his wife, Mary Elizabeth (M’Liss) Kirk, 90. She and five of her six grandchildren were among about 120 people who attended.
“It was really a special thing for us that she’s in such good health that she could come and relish” the event, Dick Kirk said.
“It was humbling but also thrilling to be honored with my brother and sister – and in front of our mother,” Bill Kirk said.