William F. Kirwin, landscape architect who designed parks and recreational areas throughout Maryland, dies

Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

William Frederick Kirwin, a landscape architect who started his own firm and helped design parks and recreational spaces throughout Maryland, died June 27 at his home in Towson of vascular Parkinsonism. He was 81.

Jon Conner, vice president and landscape architecture practice leader of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, had known Mr. Kirwin since 1985 after graduating from the University of Maryland, joining a civil engineering firm in Towson as a landscape architect and being paired with Mr. Kirwin as a mentor.

“He was definitely an innovator and groundbreaker for landscape architects,” Mr. Conner said. “When he was hired out of school, I think his first job was with the Maryland State Highway Administration, and at that time it was unusual for highway administrations to hire landscape architects. So he was one of the first folks in the door to start that process of integrating landscape architecture with highway projects and streetscapes. He broke new ground there.”

Mr. Kirwin was the older of two children born to William F. Kirwin Sr., a butcher, and the former Rosemary Painton, a nurse, living in Troy, New York. A goaltender on his recreational and high school ice hockey team, Mr. Kirwin earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Syracuse University in 1961 and then a law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1968.

Mr. Kirwin founded his own landscape architecture firm, William F. Kirwin Inc., in Towson and designed landscapes for a number of state and city parks. Some of his works include creating the area around the Gordon Plaza containing the Edgar Allan Poe statue at the University of Baltimore, the Auburn House at Towson University, the Louis L. Goldstein Memorial in Annapolis and MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore.

Some achievements resonated more deeply than others. Marie Kirwin said her husband visited the Cheltenham State Veterans Cemetery in Prince George’s County annually.

“Every year we would go to Hilton Head for vacation, we’d go on [Route] 301, and he’d always pull in there to see what the entrance looked like and everything else looked like,” she said. “He would say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re taking good care of it.’ ”

Mrs. Kirwin, who met her husband through a blind date and married him on June 9, 1962, in her hometown of Norwich, New York, said he was proud of the R.A. Bloch Cancer Survivors Park in Towson because he won a state competition to design the acre of Baltimore County property next to Towson Town Center.

“The project presented some unique design challenges,” she said. “But he always applied great skill and took particular care with what he did.”

The Korean War Memorial in Canton was meaningful to Mr. Kirwin because of what it contains.

“He always said that it was the only thing he had ever done where his name is in the stone down there,” Mrs. Kirwin said. “Not that he ever cared. That wasn’t important to him. He knew where he left his fingerprints.”

Mr. Kirwin also helped the state create a board that licensed landscape architects and chaired the board. Despite his efforts, Mr. Kirwin declined to ask for the first license, accepting license No. 8.

“I think that spoke to his character,” Mr. Conner said. “He didn’t want to beat his chest too loudly or speak too much about himself. He let his actions speak for themselves. When the opportunity came up, there was a whole committee of people that started the board, and he said, ‘You guys can all take the higher numbers. I don’t care. Just give me one of those numbers, and we’ll go.’ It just wasn’t important to him.”

Mr. Conner said Mr. Kirwin was determined to help future generations of landscape architects, teaching courses at Morgan State and Towson universities. And even when Mr. Conner’s firm acquired Mr. Kirwin’s company in 2006, Mr. Kirwin worked for JMT for an additional six years before officially retiring, sharing what he had learned with a new group of colleagues.

“He had so much knowledge to impart because he had such an extensive resume and experience,” Mr. Conner said. “He was always very willing to give you his time and teach you. He really liked teaching younger folks, which was evidenced by the number of places where he taught courses.”

On Saturdays, Mr. Kirwin could be found at Pleasant Plains Elementary School in Towson helping his two daughters paint. On Sundays, he taught them how to cook Italian food.

Mr. Kirwin was cremated. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a celebration-of-life service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kirwin is survived by two daughters, Colene Barbaro of Dallas and Marielana Suarez of Lutherville, and four grandchildren.

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