Kirkpatrick, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, was one of Amherst’s first American studies majors. “American studies was a real window into the liberal arts—I took courses in American history, economics, political science, literature and the sciences—and my professors were brilliant men,” he says. The critical and ethical thinking he learned from them led him to Harvard Law School and a long, successful career as a partner at the Chicago-based law firm now known as Kirkland & Ellis, where his work focused on the corporate, trust and estate fields.
Kirkpatrick frequently returns to Amherst. “Our class has a lot of esprit de corps and many continuing friendships,” he says. “This has made coming back to Amherst important.” He has done more than that. In 1999, Kirkpatrick and his wife, Phyllis, established the John E. Kirkpatrick 1951 Professorship Fund. Currently held by David W. Wills, the Kirkpatrick Professorship is awarded to a distinguished faculty member whose teaching and scholarship include the interdisciplinary investigation of law, religion, philosophy and society, with an emphasis on ethics and a focus on the United States.
Kirkpatrick is also a Johnson Chapel Associate and a member of the Founders Society and Noah Webster Circle. He led the Amherst Club of Chicago and has been a class agent, planned gifts chair and campaign volunteer, among other roles. Currently, he serves as reunion gift chair for the class of 1951, a role he has held or shared for several milestone reunions, setting the standard for all 60th and 65th reunion classes in both dollars raised and participation. The class’s 65th reunion gift exceeded $9.5 million.
Beyond Amherst, Kirkpatrick serves on the board of directors of several charities and a large Chicago-headquartered multinational corporation in addition to being active in the administration of and fundraising for his church. He and Phyllis have three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Kirkpatrick’s enduring legacy continues with a new, transformative investment in the College in honor of his 65th reunion. He forged his own path when he chose Amherst, and the College is better for the long, dynamic and engaged journey that has ensued.
“My Amherst education and the years I spent there contributed hugely to the person I have become,” he says. “My gifts to Amherst are not just repaying a debt—they are expressing my gratitude and thanksgiving for being an Amherst man. And I want Amherst to continue its mission of providing a most superior educational experience to its students.”