Articles > William Kirk's Speech at Rose Hill

Presentation of two Kirk Portraits
9 May 2008

May 9, 2008

at Rose Hill Plantation House 


Good Evening:

          My name is Bill Kirk and I’m very proud and happy to be here this evening with my sister, Kathryn Elizabeth Kirk and my daughter Ellen Marcell Kirk to represent our branch of this large and distinguished family. My wife Jody and son Jarrett would love to be here as well, and hope to visit later this summer when coming to see Ellen perform at the Lost Colony Theater in North Carolina.

          This is my first visit to Rose Hill and we want first to thank you for treating us with such kindness and hospitality.  When my sister and I knew this event would be taking place I asked Rusty and Robin White if I could make some short comments, as there were two duties I could not fail to perform if given this opportunity. I promise to keeps my remarks short, as I am not a person accustomed to public speaking, which I’m sure will quickly become obvious.

          First, there are a number of groups and individuals whose work and dedication over many decades must be acknowledged.  I first became aware of Rose hill over 50 years ago through my father, William Whitfield, Jr. He was corresponding with a number of people to put together a factual history of the families who contributed to the growth of this beautiful part of the country. He became acquainted with Betsy Caldwell and the dedicated members of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, and was delighted to provide all of the Kirk’s written history, letters, genealogy charts, copies of family pictures, photographs of the family portraits and transcriptions of aural memories. The aim was to produce what was know then as "The Big Book". He was given tremendous support and source material from his cousin, Genie Woodard, who lives now in Florida, and remains in contact with my sister. I was able to help by photographing the portraits and making copies of the family pictures. My father visited here several times over the course of his life and deeply appreciated the kindness he was shown by the Society and the many relatives who gathered in groups such as this to meet one another.

          The Big Book has yet to be completed, but the massive amount of material collected from the Kirks, the Martins, the Pinckney's, the Moores, and the Connors has proven to be a treasure trove for historians like Bill Behan, who is here with us this evening, to provide the source material to piece together the facts and the memories to produce a lucid view of the people and the times which brought us to where we are today. Also here with us this evening is Iva Roberts Welton, whose efforts and expenditures to restore Rose Hill after the fire, and the work she did to have the home placed on the National Historical Register, deserves special recognition.

          As with any histories some memories are not the same, and some facts accepted as gospel by one group may differ from strong memories of others. How Rose Hill got its name is an example. We will always believe one story, because our father told us so, while other family members are quite sure of other versions of the truth. We’ll try not to get into arguments here tonight, because fistfights can be so unpleasant.

          I won’t dare to try to mention all the individuals here tonight who are direct descendants of all these families who contributed so much to this effort, for fear of missing someone. I will ask that those people please stand or raise a hand so all of us can recognize your families and also your children, who will hopefully realize the importance of carrying on this work.

          There are also many friends with us tonight whose contributions are based on their dedication to the preservation of history, and the belief that a peoples’ knowledge of their local history will engender the pride to ensure that this place will continue to prosper by the example of the honest and decent men and women who built this fine community. These fine people should rise to accept our thanks for work that sustains the best we have to offer. I have been amazed my whole life that people I have never met have worked to hard to provide a history for my children and myself. My children are now of an age that this is becoming to mean something. It took me much longer to catch on, but both my daughter and son will be happy to confirm they are much quicker on the uptake than I am.

Above all, our family needs to give our heartfelt thanks to Robin and Rusty White. When I heard that Rose hill had burned to ashes in 1978, despite the efforts of the Sturgeons and the architect Willis Irvin, I was sure I would never have the opportunity to come here myself and to someday bring my children. My sister Kathryn deserves all the credit for keeping this material alive over the intervening years, when it looked like our history would be nothing but documents and photographs. When we heard the Whites had begun this restoration I realized that the hard work and faith place in her by our father was fully justified.

          In the 12 years the Whites’ time, effort, resources and dedication to making this history accessible has created what you see all around you. We also need to thanks Robin’s parents, Bob and Ann Sumner for the exceptional Rose Hill website. We have been overjoyed to make our small contribution of the heirlooms passed down to us. We knew that Dr. John had to return to Rose Hill, and as we came to know Robin and Rusty over the last few years we never had the slightest doubt that they were the people with whom we could entrust our family heirlooms.

          My second reason for speaking tonight, and I promise I’m close to being done, is to introduce a surprise guest who has joined us for the occasion. There is another gentleman important to this history of this home who had to return with Dr. John. Without him, Dr. John would have never owned the land we stand on or been able to build Rose Hill. For some 40 years we was on the wall of the home where I grew up, then moved for ten years to New Mexico, and for the last twenty years has been on the wall of the home in Kansas where my children have grown up.

          When we knew this event would take place it was inconceivable that he should not come back as well. He deserves to be back in the town that once bore his name, and in the home and surrounded by the objects he gave to his daughter on her marriage to Dr. John.  To me this man optimizes the best the Kirk family has to offer. Yesterday I was able to visit his grave and read the inscription on his tombstone for the first time in person. I encourage you all to take the short trip to the small grave yard just at this end of the Island to read how a man’s life can be defined by honor, honesty and decency.

          On behalf of five generations of the Kirk family, it is our honor, our duty and our privilege to bring James Brown Kirk home at last to his beloved Low Country of South Carolina.

          Thank you very much for sharing this occasion with out family.

William John Kirk
Overland Park, Kansas

William John Kirk