Clifton Ray Kirkwood, patriarch, raconteur, and buttermilk aficionado passed away peacefully at home July 11, 2020 from the natural causes only a long life can bring. Cliff was born June 11, 1927 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky to Nelia Ross Kirkwood and George Dempsey Kirkwood. He was the youngest of eight children but was raised alongside an orphaned niece and nephew who were close to his age.
During the Great Depression, the family moved to Evansville, Indiana where his mother opened a boarding house. As a young student at Delaware School, he was the drum major for the band and later a boxing team member at Central High School. In 1945, at age 17 and with the help of his parents, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to serve at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska where he spent the final months of World War II.
Upon going home to Evansville, he reconnected with a childhood friend, Lolita Boop and they were married in April 1948. In 1948, Cliff became a member of the Evansville Masonic Lodge 64 and over the next several years, the young couple welcomed three daughters and later, a son. In 1956, Cliff was fortuitously hired by Bendix (later named Americold Compressor Company) for whom he would work the rest of his career. He began as a welder and rose through the ranks of the engineering department before landing as Quality Control Foreman in 1962. This role positioned him to be tapped to help open a new manufacturing plant in Cullman, Alabama in 1965. He retired there as Superintendent of Manufacturing in 1989. Among his many professional accomplishments was the design of a small compressor for use in miniature refrigerators which was patented and is still in use in dorm rooms and bars today.
In a quintessential move of post-war Americana, in 1965, Cliff loaded up the family Ford Fairlane station wagon with his wife, three kids, a baby and the family dog for the move from Indiana to Alabama. Soon after, he became a member of St. John’s Evangelical Church where he worshipped for the rest of his life. Humble and devoted, Cliff lived a life dedicated to supporting his family. As older parents of a young child, Cliff and Lolita joined the Parent-Teacher League at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Cullman at a time when parent involvement was not the norm it is today. Later, when their son Kevin was an athlete at Cullman High School, Cliff and Lolita became members of the C Club Parent Group attending countless sporting events over the years and always willing to do any task necessary to support him and his teams.
Following Lolita’s death in 1988, “Mister K” married Dorothy Brown Stafford in 1989.
After his retirement from Americold, he enjoyed traveling to Europe and many western states including visiting his daughter and family in California, cruising in Alaska, and Arizona where he once rode a donkey down into the Grand Canyon and rafted on the Colorado River. A lifelong artist of natural talent, retirement afforded him time to explore watercolor painting which he enjoyed gifting to family members and creating beautiful Christmas cards. Cliff also became a NASCAR fan in his later years, taking pause of his household handyman tasks and honey-do lists to catch a race.
It is his storytelling that we will remember most. With a glint in his eye and signature belly laugh, one always knew there was a good portion of his story that was a complete falsehood provided for embellishment, but it was woven into the tale so tightly as to never be fully detected. Cliff took great pride in his family and was always interested in what the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing. He was kind and gave the best hugs and kisses. He loved cheese and the thrill of sneaking a bite of it when Dottie’s back was turned. We will miss his smiling, crinkly eyes and steadfast spirit.
Cliff was preceded in death by his wife Lolita, son-in-law Mark Atlas, and granddaughter Amy Kilpatrick. He is survived by his wife Dottie, sister Jonelle Maduri of Gulf Breeze, Florida, daughters Clifta Atlas of Willows, California, Janell (Wayne) Mauldin and Karol (Michael) Kilpatrick of Cullman, son Kevin (Tracie) Kirkwood of Cullman, and numerous nieces and nephews. Eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren called him “Paw.”
The family would like to thank Comfort Care Hospice for their tireless care of Cliff in his final years. A private family interment will be held at Cullman City Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to a charity of your choice.