March 7, 2006 — The island lost one of its kindest and most gentle souls Monday when Richard F. "Rich" Kirwan, 74, died at Schneider Regional Medical Center.
Those who knew him describe Kirwan as generous of spirit and a wise student of human nature. He started early on honing his skills in Manhattan, where he managed the New York City Playboy Club and other restaurants and hot spots, before moving to St. Thomas with his wife, Helen. He also had his own French bistro on the city's East Side.
His wife Helen said Tuesday, "He was known by all for his 'big city' expressions and colorful lines."
He was also known for his humorous stories about his days and nights in the Big Apple, rubbing elbows with the famous and infamous.
When the Kirwans moved to St. Thomas in 1971 to open the Cuckoo's Nest boutique, Kirwan changed professions, becoming a realtor, though he would from time to time still refer to himself as an "old saloon keeper."
Owner of USA Properties, Kirwan, a past president of the Board of Realtors, was honored nationally as "Realtor of the Year," representing the Virgin Islands.
In an e-mail circulated to local realtors Tuesday, Jeyan Stout wrote, "He was an excellent St. Thomas president and a super laid-back, classy Realtor."
He was also a "force" in the Rotary Club of St. Thomas, where he served many years on its scholarship committee. In Helen Kirwan's words, it was "a chore he dearly loved."
A graduate of the Cornell University Hotel School, Kirwan was selected by the school to interview all Caribbean students seeking admission to Cornell.
Kirwan was an avid bridge player, as is Helen. The pair spent time teaching bridge on the high seas over the years, going on cruises around the Caribbean and elsewhere. He was on the board of the St. Thomas Bridge Club for 20 years.
But closest to Kirwan's heart were those suffering from alcoholism. With more than 20 years of recovery from the disease, Kirwan's empathy and support helped legions of fellow alcoholics. He always had a listening ear and solid experience, strength and hope that he willingly passed on to others.
He served on the Council on Alcoholism St. Thomas (COAST) board and presided over community projects designed to improve options available to Virgin Islanders. He was instrumental in the acquisition and rehabilitation of Unity Lodge on Fireburn Hill, which became a safe haven and half-way house for recovering alcoholics. "He served as mentor and friend to many who sought alcohol and drug recovery," said Helen Kirwan. "There are many alive and well today because of his efforts."
Longtime friend, Mary Gleason, said Tuesday, "Rich was a dear friend for more than 30 years, like the brother I never had."
George Morrissey said of his long friendship with Kirwan, "It started out as a real estate transaction [and never ended]. We had lunch every Friday; we were dubbed 'the Romeos,' that's Retired Old Men Eating Out. He loved giving back to the community. He was always interested in friends, family — a good meal, a good story and a good laugh."
Virgin Islands Solicitor General Elliott MacIver Davis, a longtime friend of Kirwan, noted his loss with sadness. "Rich and I forged a special bond when he learned he had cancer as do I," said Davis. "He had been a supporter of me in my long battle with cancer, when he discovered that this was another challenge we shared.
"Rich taught me a vital lesson about the acceptance of God's will when he, without complaint, finally acceded to his fate with grace. That lesson will endure with me."
Helen Kirwan said, "Rich died of lung cancer. He was a smoker, like too many of his generation. The family sends thanks to the wonderful, caring staff at the oncology clinic at the hospital."
He is survived by Helen; two daughters, Sydney Kirwan and Alicia Carusona; son Richard H. Kirwan; grandchildren, Ryan, Terrance, Matthew and Parker Kirwan, and Andrea and Lauren Carusona; brother Roger Kirwan; sisters, Clare Briody and Carol Aikenhead; sister-in-law Gail Kirwan; brothers-in-law, Patrick Briody and Thomas Aikenhead; sister- and brother-in-law Ricki and Michael Brodie; nieces, nephews and, according to Helen Kirwan, "more good friends than space will allow us to name, and more than one man could ever hope to have in a lifetime."
She said memorial arrangements will be announced soon.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.