1939 - 2019
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KIRBY--John J., Jr. 1939-2019. John Joseph Kirby, Jr., Age 79, passed away on October 2, 2019, surrounded by friends and family, due to complications of Myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer. A prominent attorney whose clients ranged from the video-game maker Nintendo, to Pepsi and America Online, he was most proud of his time working at the Department of Justice as the special assistant to the head of the Civil Rights Division, John Doar, during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. At the Department of Justice, where he first worked as a summer intern, he gathered voting records throughout the South that demonstrated evidence of wide-spread discrimination against African-Americans. His discovery of methods such as literacy tests specifically designed to exclude African-Americans from voting helped form the basis of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While at the Civil Rights Division, he also found himself personally escorting African- American children into segregated schools, surrounded by federal marshals. Later, he was appointed Deputy Director to the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, founded in the aftermath of the killings of four students at Kent State University. Over a legal career spanning four decades, John argued in front of the Supreme Court and served as the chairman of the historic Wall Street law firm Mudge Rose Gutherie, Alexandear & Fernsdon, before joining the international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP in 1995 to chair their New York Litigation Department. A career highlight (to his children) came when he successfully defended Nintendo during a trademark and copyright infringement suit brought by Universal City Studios concerning Nintendo's video game character "Donkey Kong." John continued to represent Nintendo for many years, and Nintendo's lead designer Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda franchises, named the popular video- game character "Kirby" in his honor. Nintendo also gave John a sailboat, aptly named the "Donkey Kong," which he took great pleasure in sailing with his family on the waters by his homes in Westhampton Beach, and later Shippan Point, Connecticut. John served on the Board of Directors of The Legal Aid Society of New York and the Fund for Modern Courts. He spent 15 years on the Board of Georgetown University, including as Vice Chairman, and served as President of the Merton College Charitable Corporation (MC3), the Oxford college he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He also served on the Board of Fordham University. John was born in Falls Church, Virginia on October 22, 1939, to the late John Joseph Kirby, a lawyer with the federal government for over 40 years, and Rose L. Mangan Kirby, a home maker. After graduating from Gonzaga high school in Washington D.C., John proceeded to Fordham University on a full academic scholarship. At Fordham, he was elected president of the student body in his senior year. After graduating from Fordham, he was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and went on to earn a masters degree from Merton College at Oxford University, and later a law degree from the University of Virginia. He was known to finish entire books in a single sitting. When not reading he challenged contestants on Jeopardy and attempted to play golf. John loved learning and to that end he traveled the world and enjoyed the arts - Broadway, opera and museums. Most of all, he loved his family. He is survived by his wife of fifteen years, Susan Cullman, two brothers, Peter Kirby (Carol Kirby) and Michael Kirby (Margaret Kirby), two sisters, Lisa Greissing (Ed Greissing) and Cecelia Wrasse (Dennis Wrasse), two sons and two daughters, John Andrew Pickens Kirby (Daphne Pinkerson), Timothy James Kirby (Chelsey Kirby), Carolyn Sicher (Aaron Woolf), Perrin Patricia Lucia Kirby, as well as three grandchildren, Emma Rose Kirby, William Rose Kirby and Eloise Woolf, and many, many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Kirby Scholarship Fund at Fordham University, the Merton College Charitable Corporation and The Joseph F. Cullman, Jr. Institute for Patient Experience at Mount Sinai Hospital.

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Published in New York Times on Oct. 4, 2019.
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16 entries
August 25, 2020
I was saddened to learn of Mr. Kirby’s passing while watching High Score on Netflix. While working as an assistant in New York City many years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing with him and his lovely wife Ms. Cullman. And although our encounters were brief, I’ve never forgotten his candor and sincerity.
Erica English Bergmann
October 29, 2019
My condolence goes to the Kirby family. May you find peace in John Kirby's memories through the comfort of God to sustain you during this difficult time. We loved playing the Donkey Kong game. May you find hope of a future soon to come without tears, pain and death. This God has promised us.
October 29, 2019
My condolence goes to the Kirby family. May you find peace in John's memories through the comfort of God to sustain you during this difficult time. May you find hope of a future soon to come without tears, pain and death. This God has promised us.
October 17, 2019
Dear family,

Please accept this as my sincerest apologies and condolences for the loss of your loved one. May the God Of all true comfort add to yours at this most distressing time.


Aaron Orange
Wesley Chapel,FL
Aaron Orange
October 14, 2019
Thoughts and prayers to the Kirby family, truly sorry for your loss.. May God be with you during this not difficult time.
October 13, 2019
Many children have enjoyed the games and entertainment you shared with them. May the Kirby family gain comfort and peace from God during this most difficult time because he cares for you (1 Pet 5:6,7)
October 9, 2019
May he rest in peace, as the man who let many children grow up with Wiis in their homes decades later. As a man who brought joy to millions of people without even knowing it. Thank you John. May you rest in peace.
October 6, 2019
John Kirby was secretary of the American Oxonian Class of 1962 and ably reported on his classmates with an endearing, subtle humor and inclusiveness. His Wikipedia entry shows the range of his many significant achievements. Condolences to his family.
John Tepper Marlin
October 5, 2019
Logan Figueroa
October 5, 2019
May You Rest In Peace, Though Your Body Has Ceased, Your Soul Lives On In The Pink Bottomless Puffball Themselves.
Logan Figueroa
October 5, 2019
Long live Kirby
Vinny McGrath
October 4, 2019
I learned about your passing today, and your work on literacy tests and with Nintendo really means a lot to me and many others. Thank you for your contributions. RIP
October 4, 2019
May your afterlife be as rich and inspiring as your life on earth.
Derek Spence
October 4, 2019
Pour one out for a hero. I had never heard of him, but saw him eulogized on Kotaku. Got a chuckle out of his famous Nintendo namesake and his Donkey Kong history, and my eyes widened at his Civil Rights work. Generations of Americans salute you, my man.
October 4, 2019
What a legend. So influential.
He will be missed.
Matthew Petersen
October 4, 2019
With deep admiration, respect, and affection for a giant in the law and a treasured colleague.
Miles Ruthberg
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