Remembering Joseph Kilpatrick Longtime ZSR colleague and friend


Longtime ZSR colleague and friend, Joseph Kilpatrick, passed away on Monday, August 10 in Winston-Salem, NC. Joseph was Assistant Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation from 1982-2000. He played a pivotal role in shaping NC's environmental, conservation, and community economic development movements. He served as a coach, mentor and friend to nonprofit leaders across the state, and was adamant that funders and nonprofit leaders work together to create the mutual change they sought.

ZSR staff, Tom Lambeth and Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, remember the life and legacy of Joseph and his many contributions to the Foundation and to North Carolina.

Tribute to Joseph Kilpatrick from ZSR Senior Fellow Tom Lambeth

I first knew Joseph as a student at Davidson. The Smith Richardson Foundation where I worked was establishing at Davidson a program to identify future leaders. Joseph was quickly selected because of qualities of mind and heart which he had already demonstrated. The Richardson Fellows Program placed a bet that he would take that richness of talent and strength of character into a life well-lived. They were right.

He went off to the Army where his leadership was again tested and proven and then to law school where his mental strengths earned another endorsement. We maintained a friendship that grew deeper and richer as the years went by.

I remember him best as my colleague of two decades at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. He was the first addition to the Foundation's program staff. Katie Mountcastle was then the President of the trustee board and when I told her of this choice she had only one direction. "Let him speak his own mind."

He did and because he did, the Foundation is a better place and because he did North Carolina is a better place.

He was not only a funder of the nonprofits he encountered through the Foundation's work; he was their friend. A friend who brought not only dollars but wise advice and understanding of their mission and most of all, one who cared for them as people.

And he brought his legal training to the Foundation. He was especially good at applying the lawyer's discipline of asking questions and assembling information to the process of grant decisions. Sometimes lots of questions and lots of information. Martha Pridgen - our office partner in those early days - said to me, soon after Joseph joined us, "he is writing memos about things we once yelled down the hall!"

It was my good fortune to travel the philanthropy road with him - literally. Over years that are bittersweet in memories now, we covered most of the state together. He was a great companion tolerating my deviation from his penchant for eating healthy. He would smile when I, putting down my piece of fried chicken, would ask him "how is your grilled cheese sandwich?"

Best food memory of all was watching his patience with the waitress who told him the chicken ceasar salad came with chicken to see whether he wanted it or not. He argued no longer, took the salad and carefully picked each piece of chicken from the salad as the waitress stood behind the kitchen door watching.

That quality of patience and respect for and interest in all kinds of people was an endearing quality of the man.

Thornton Wilder in his play Our Town has a character that asked, "do people know the joy of life while living it?" Life for Joseph, as for all of us, was not always joy, but I know he often knew its joy and he helped so many of us know it because of him.

Thank you Joseph.

Tribute to Joseph Kilpatrick from ZSR Assistant Director Joy Vermillion Heinsohn

In Frederick Buechner's book Wishful Thinking, he writes:

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

The deep gladness Joe received from serving others was a perfect match for the deep hunger of the world's ills. Aren't we lucky that Joseph Kilpatrick heard and followed his call.

I knew Joseph, first and foremost, as a colleague. Fresh out of college, I spent two years working alongside him at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, traveling North Carolina to meet with people who had dreams of how to make this state a better place to live and work and play, to see if the Foundation's resources could help move those dreams closer to reality. We spent countless hours in the car together, traveling from one end of the state to the other. And you know what I remember most? His laugh. You know what I'm talking about. That wide-mouthed, ear-to-ear, full-on belly laugh that was his signature. I can hear it now. But here's what else I remember: I felt heard and valued. Joe was interested in my story. He wanted to know my history. He learned what my interests were and then included me in projects that would help me grow. And he validated me. There were times when I found myself in rooms with prominent state and national leaders who had spent a lifetime on the issues we were working on. And Joe would tell them about my work on those issues and ask for my opinion. He included my voice and my ideas and, in so doing, offered me a seat at many tables that otherwise would have been closed to me.

Over this past week, as I've spoken with many colleagues about Joe, I've been reminded that bringing people to the table was what Joe did. It's how he operated. Joseph was passionate about bringing people together to move the work forward. One colleague said, "a hallmark of Joe's influence was his encouraging and pushing us to be more collaborative, helping us see the value in teaming up with partners and sharing our strengths, and being able to listen clearly to different points of view. He'd have us on buses together, just talking as people. I was new to the work and pretty intimidated and he made you realize that we're all in this together."

Another colleague said, "He expected everybody to be working together towards the shared goal. He had no tolerance for competitive or uncooperative behavior."

One example of Joe's work to bring people together involves pigs. When I first joined the Foundation, I spent an inordinate amount of time learning from Joe about hog poop. See, if you didn’t know Joe through his professional life, then you’re missing out. In the late 1990s, North Carolina was dealing with an enormous problem of how to deal with millions of gallons of hog waste, much of which was leaking into the waterways of the eastern part of the state. Joe knew that, while this was an environmental catastrophe, it was also an epic disaster for the low-income people who lived near the hog farms. Jane Preyer, director of the North Carolina office of the Environmental Defense Fund told me this week, "Joe taught us to do our work in a different way. He was a wonderful voice for bringing the people impacted by pollution together with mainstream environmentalists so that we could come at it from a 'people lens' as opposed to a technical problem solving lens. It was incredibly important in shifting our perspective so that, when trying to put together solutions, you make sure to ask how the people most affected can be included in those conversations."

Joe's work on environmental issues did not start in the late '90s. From his early days at the Foundation, he championed conservation causes. And what I heard time after time after time as I spoke with colleagues this week was how Joe was at the epicenter of the growth of the environmental movement in North Carolina, coaching, mentoring and guiding young conservationists who had a vision for protecting the state's remarkable natural resources. Environmental lawyer Lark Hayes put it this way, "Joe was enough of a feminist that I think he'd be ok with me calling him the midwife of North Carolina's environmental movement. I can't imagine anyone more well-suited than Joe for the work we needed to do in those early years of building a conservation movement in North Carolina. He was the right person in the right place at the right time. Without Joe's guidance and support, we may well not have had the robust conservation movement that we have today."

Foundation Trustee and former Davidson classmate Dan Clodfelter put it this way, "Joe almost single-handedly opened the world of philanthropy to environmental issues in North Carolina, and through his advocacy and leadership he led not only ZSR but other foundations in North Carolina to seed and then support the growth of one of the richest and strongest networks of environmental and conservation groups in any state in the nation."

He's right. Joe was a key leader in convening a group of environmental funders from around the country, known as the Environmental Grantmakers Association, that now has 200 members from around the world that collectively hold $200 billion in assets and give more than one billion dollars to environmental causes annually. And Joe is in part to thank.

But as I've listened to colleagues reflect on Joe this week, it's not just his work on environmental issues that they remember. They recall his work to build a nonprofit infrastructure for community development, to help those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. They recall his enthusiasm, his energy, his mentorship. Foundation Trustee Mary Mountcastle said, "When I think about Joe, I think about his optimism, his belief in people and their ability to accomplish things and take on big adversaries; and his belief in the innate goodness of people." I would add that Joe was masterful at dreaming up big ideas, and then getting you to buy into them by somehow getting you to believe the ideas were yours. He was an architect of possibility.

I'll close with a story that Lark Hayes told that seemed fitting for today. She said, "Joe was enthusiastic about our ideas and would encourage us, but he would also constantly remind us that not every good proposal would get funded. He'd say to us, "We've got to remember, Lark, life can be unfair, life can be unfair…not everything that is good moves forward, life can be unfair."

Joseph, you were right. Life can be unfair. You were taken from us too soon. But what a legacy you leave, to your family, to your friends, to the people of North Carolina.