Obituary: Agnes Dodds Kinard / Civic and arts activist, historian, first female lawyer at Reed Smith

by Sampsonia Way    /  May 26, 2014  / No comments

Agnes Dodds Kinard was a founding board member of City of Asylum Pittsburgh.

By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Agnes Dodds Kinard, a longtime local civic activist and historian, liked to say of her nearly century of life that it was “bracketed by wars.”

She was born during World War I, and left her job as law firm Reed Smith’s first female attorney in 1939 to start a new career during World War II as an administrator in the domestic war programs of Allegheny County and then the federal government.

In between those international wars in her life’s timeline, Mrs. Kinard fought local battles, many of them as a pioneering woman herself, or as an advocate for pioneering women, civil rights, arts and environmental organizations.

“A hallmark of her life, especially for women in her life who knew her, was that she was a touchstone for all those battles that they’d been through,” her son Allan Frank said.

She not only had been the first female attorney at Reed Smith, but one of the first female law students at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.

She co-founded the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, an organization that had to battle legal and political minefields to save Carson’s Springdale home in the mid-1970s. And she co-founded in 1972 the Pioneer Crafts Council in Farmington, a nationally known arts organization now known as Touchstone Center for Crafts, that she fought to keep independent 33 years later, in 2005.

On top of all of that, she wrote five books and was directly involved in a long list of other organizations from the Pittsburgh Symphony, to the Pittsburgh Landscape and Design Society, the Carnegie Museum and many others.

“She was always willing to fight,” said Diane Samuels, a co-founder of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which Mrs. Kinard was a founding board member. “But her fighting wasn’t the kind that slammed people over the head. Maybe it was her law background, but she really knew how to make a case.”

Mrs. Kinard, who had been in declining health in recent months, died Thursday at her home in Longwood at Oakmont, a retirement community in Plum. She was 99.

The daughter of Agnes Raw Dodds and Robert James Dodds, a senior partner at what was then known as Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, Mrs. Kinard was born Nov. 3, 1914, in Highland Park, where she grew up with her late brother, Robert.

She met and married Morton Frank, a Pittsburgh Press business manager at the time. After he served in the Navy during World War II, they owned and ran two weekly newspapers in Ohio, and had three children, before divorcing in 1957.

Mrs. Kinard then moved her family to Pittsburgh and began work as a real estate broker in East Liberty before marrying a textile executive, James Kinard, in 1961. He died in 1994.

As a mother Mrs. Kinard “was most concerned with her children maintaining their integrity and the rights of others and always defending the underdog,” Allan Frank said. “I think it all went back to her experience as a young woman dealing with a world of men.”

Those same qualities came through in the projects she advocated for, friends and family say.

In the early 1970s, when several of Mrs. Kinard’s friends heard that the Carson home in Springdale was for sale, and might be sold and torn down, they called Mrs. Kinard in.

“It was a big struggle” to save the home over the next few years, said Evelyn Hurtle George, another founding member of the homestead association.

“It had been a hard road to get people to appreciate the beginning of the environmental movement and Rachel’s role, and it was Agnes’ interest in the environment, women and history that got her involved,” she said.

When the Touchstone board in 2004 and 2005 was attempting to merge with California University of Pennsylvania — a move Mrs. Kinard referred to as “nefarious” in her self-published autobiography completed just last year — she stepped in and rallied friends and foundations to her side.

“They called it a ‘merger’ but I think she would have called it a ‘takeover.’ And I’d agree,” said Frank Golba, an architect and friend of Mrs. Kinard’s.

The Touchstone board was concerned it was $130,000 in debt and hoped the university could put it on solid financial footing — a situation Mrs. Kinard and others thought was the direct result of the board’s inaction.

“She called me one night in October 2004 and said, ‘I need your help,’ and she did that with others and people simply respected her and joined the group,” Mr. Golba said.

Mrs. Kinard’s allies eventually won a vote from the organization’s membership and the existing board resigned, allowing Mrs. Kinard to then rally help from foundations, which helped with grants to improve Touchstone’s finances.

“Without Agnes, none of that happens,” said Mr. Golba, who became Touchstone’s board president for a time.

Even in recent years, she remained engaged, reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette every morning over her English breakfast tea or, when her eyesight began to fail, using a magnifying glass to help her or having her assistant read articles to her. A regular on the letters to the editor page, she was still writing well into her 90s, decrying the Iraq War, denouncing cuts to the arts and observing the lack of religious diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two years ago, after reading about the Occupy Pittsburgh demonstration Downtown, Mrs. Kinard asked to be taken there so she could give the people there “a pep talk,” Allan Frank said.

More recently, she had been following the possible demise of the August Wilson Center, and she was “very concerned” and wondered what she could do to help, Mr. Golba said.

The fact that Mrs. Kinard was just about five months from her 100th birthday “was something she talked about a little bit,” said another son, Michael Frank. “But it was mostly about how much she had lived through, not just personal changes, but culturally.”

“Part of her did want to live to be 100,” he said. “But, in the end, she was ready.”

But not without maintaining her sense of humor.

Allan Frank said that several weeks ago, after his mother had suffered a fall and he came to see her, the first question she asked him was: “Have you finished my obituary yet?”

When he said he hadn’t, “she said, ‘Well, you better get on it.’

“And when I did finish it she read it and wanted to do a second draft,” he said with a chuckle. “She said, ‘You make it sound like I’m running for office,’ because I touted her accomplishments up high.”

In the last weeks of her life, she continued to plan her funeral, he said, at one point confessing to her family with a remark that brought them smiles: “I guess I’ve been somewhat of a micromanager. I’m not going to change now.”

Her family said it wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mrs. Kinard is also survived by a daughter, Marilyn Frank.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Freyvogel Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Ave., Oakland. A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Homewood Cemetery Chapel, 1599 S. Dallas Ave., Point Breeze. A brief visitation from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. will precede the service. Interment will be private.

Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579.

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

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