KENNETH ROBERT KILPATRICK
August 20, 1937 to June 29, 2016
A unique sense of humor
Kenneth Robert Kilpatrick—a man passionate about fine wines, negotiating a brilliant business deal, and his amazing children—died peacefully at Silverado Memory Care in San Juan Capistrano, on Wednesday, June 29. Suffering at the end from Parkinson’s disease, he was also a man of deep Christian faith. He was 78.
Ken, as most called him, had a unique sense of humor. It could be dry and sometimes took a minute to hit you. One time he shaved off half of his mustache and waited to see how long it would take for the family to notice.
His daughter, Susan Adamski, remembers one Christmas when her father was trying to show his three kids how to exhibit enthusiasm when opening a gift they didn’t particularly like.
“I remember his running around and jumping up and down with excitement about his supposed gift: ‘A dead frog! Just what I always wanted’,” she laughed.
A highly successful businessman
In his prime, Ken was a highly successful businessman and leader. Beginning as a salesman for IBM, he went on to ACDC Electronics in Burbank in 1968. When he was made President of ACDC, friends and colleagues rented a full-sized billboard marking the promotion and parked the sign in front of the office. By week’s end it was shown on the front page of the local newspaper. Although claiming to be embarrassed, he was thrilled.
Ken believed it was vital that his three kids grow up to be successful. He used to demonstrate compound interest by folding a napkin in half, repeatedly—the point being that by the time you made it to the last fold, your earnings had grown substantially.
Born August 20, 1937, in Eagle Rock, CA, Ken was the second of three sons of Arthur Kilpatrick, a Los Angeles Police Officer and realtor, and Rosemary Kordenbrock Kilpatrick, a designer and small business owner. During WWII, Rosemary worked at Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) and called herself Rosy the Riveter.
Close to brothers Frank and Dan, he was raised a Baptist and attended Eagle Rock High School, where he excelled in basketball. He went on to Occidental College, majored in liberal arts, and earned a degree in business.
Marriage to a mischievous blonde
Ken met Patricia (Bonnie) O’Brien Russell, a lively, mischievous blonde, in 1960. Bonnie worked at a local dress shop, alongside Ken’s mother, Rosemary. On leave for the Christmas holidays, Ken, a US Army reservist, visited the shop when he came to fetch his mother.
Elbowing her future mother-in-law out of the way, Bonnie immediately raced to talk to Ken. She was taken with the handsome 5-foot-9 soldier with the wavy blond hair and scattering of freckles. Mainly, she was drawn to his easy-going nature and infectious sense of humor.
They married on September 22, 1961, and lived in San Francisco during the year Ken was stationed at the Presidio.
“When we had been married about one month,” Bonnie (now Bonnie Daybell) recalled, “I went through our minuscule apartment looking for him, checking everywhere. I even looked in drawers! Weird, I know. Then I opened a closet door and he stood there, perfectly still, grinning at me. No ‘Boo!’ Not a word. Scared the (*&%$) out of me.”
When Ken was released from the army, the couple moved first to Tujunga, and later to North County San Diego. In the early 1980s, the family moved to a sprawling home in Carlsbad complete with swimming pool and guest house. It was ideal for business entertaining, holiday celebrations and the dinner parties Bonnie was famous for.
The house was also ideal for children. Ken and Bonnie had three, beginning with Jamie, born in 1962, Susie in 1965, and Brian in 1969. Although Ken traveled a lot on business, he loved taking his family skiing and to the family cabin in Big Bear. Daughter Susan recalls the first time they went skiing together, her dad a relative newbie at the sport.
Getting on and off the ski lift
“He spent forever telling me how to get ON the ski lift,” Susan said, “but failed to mention how to get OFF.”
The two boarded the lift at the bottom of the hill, but Ken neglected to explain to Susie that she was to stand up and step off while the lift continued its slow climb up the mountain. They reached the first off-ramp, the one for the Bunny Hill, and Ken hopped off. But Susan zoomed clear to the top, to the highest run, Black Diamond. Fortunately, the people on the lift behind her coached her how to disembark.
Freaking out about his daughter, Ken cut into the line of waiting skiers, hopped back on the lift, and rode to Susie’s rescue. “We skied down, but he was so frazzled that he fell down every two feet. I, on the other hand, tucked in a wedge and serpentined down the hill quite gracefully.”
Ken’s son, Brian, remembers how proud his dad was when he made the Little League Major Leagues a year early, at age ten.
“The twelve-year-old pitchers were very intimidating to me, and Pops knew that,” Brian said, adding that his dad took him to the local high school so he could pitch some balls to his son in the batting cages.
“He made sure I wore my plastic novelty San Diego Padres helmet for safety,” he continued. “I remember him saying, ‘Whoa! Look out!’ several times. He beaned me at least twelve times before the last ball cracked my helmet. Needless to say, I was never afraid of the ball again after that.”
Daughter Jamie, the oldest of Ken’s three children, recalls her dad’s “Mussolini shoes,” named after the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, who rose to power after WWI. The shoes were big, ugly, white loafers, and whenever Ken wore them, the kids had free reign to attack him.
“We would climb all over him and try to bring him down,” Jamie said. “It was a regular event at our chaotic home.”
Susan also remembers how special Big Bear was to her father. “We had so many wonderful memories there,” she said. “One of my most significant memories was being in the back of his giant Buick Riviera. We’d just come off the lake. The trunk was open, but I was looking out the back window. As he lowered the trunk, I saw him kissing Mom. It’s one of the few times I saw this…had a big impact.”
Jamie said her dad was not a rocket scientist when it came to driving from point A to point B.
“Every time we got into the car and drove for more than an hour,” Jamie said, “Dad would find a ‘short cut’. When, hours later, we would plead with him to stop and ask for directions, he always said he knew exactly where we were.” That didn’t surprise anyone, she added, because he had passed the intersection 45-minutes earlier.
Ken was raised to make money and take care of his family. He worked hard to enhance his public speaking ability via Toastmasters, and always landed at the top as his career progressed to ever larger companies, including Machine Industries, Inc. and Elgar Electronics Corp, both in San Diego.
Humming and sorting his wines
In his private life, he loved to collect wine and was thrilled when brother-in-law, Ward Larson, built him a cedar-lined wine cellar in the Carlsbad house. “He would wander around happily humming while sorting his wines,” Bonnie said.
He relished pairing just the right wines for one of Bonnie’s dinner parties. He also liked movies, golf, and baseball.
“He used to play slow pitch baseball,” Susan said. “As a kid, we loved going to those games, then to the Red Vest after the game for pizza.”
Susan also remembered how her dad showed her how to change a tire when she got her first car. “See that tire?” he asked, pointing out the back tire. “If it goes flat, here’s what you do.” Then he whipped out an Automobile Club Card and said, “Call them, don’t call me.”
Jack Daybell, one of Ken’s golfing buddies, never quite understood Ken’s embracing religion to such an extent in his later life, especially since he never went to church when the kids were growing up.
When, during a golf game one day, Jack asked him why, Ken just smiled and said, “On Sunday mornings as we finished the back nine, I could hear the church bells just over the hill calling to me.”
After Ken and Bonnie divorced, in 1985, he married Valerie Hughes and adopted two children from China, Katie and Caroline.
In his last years, Ken’s health deteriorated, mainly due to Parkinson’s disease, and he chose to live at Silverado Memory Care in San Juan Capistrano.
Just before last Christmas, Jamie picked up some holiday cards for her dad to sign. Over the next few days, he wrote cards to the family, plus two more.
“They were for two of his most faithful executive assistants,” Jamie said. “It meant so much to him that he could thank these two wonderful ladies for all they meant to him.”
His brother Dan was one of the many who visited Ken at Silverado. He was also at his bedside near the end and wrote the following to Ken’s children the day he passed.
“In being with your dad the past few days, while it was difficult to see him slowly fading, he did not seem to struggle,” Dan wrote. “But I can also say that he showed signs of hearing what was said to him, especially earlier on last Friday. When speaking to him about what a wonderful sense of humor he had, his practical jokes, and his ability to make all those around him enjoy the moment, a brief but definite smile came across his face.
“It was the only time I saw this. So he was listening and present even as he was going through it all. He was a wonderful man, and we were all very fortunate to have him as part of our lives. I told him this too.”