Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, former president of JU, dies at 102

Kinne was a trailblazer in education in Jacksonville and across the nation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, chancellor emerita and former president of Jacksonville University, has died, the university announced Sunday. She was 102.

Born on May 23, 1917, in Story City, Iowa, Kinne dedicated 62 years of her life to serving JU, its students and the community of Northeast Florida.

Kinne was a trailblazer in education in Jacksonville and across the nation. She began her career at the university in 1958 as a humanities professor and became the first female College of Fine Arts dean in the world in 1961. She was named president of JU in 1979, becoming the first female president of a Florida university. Under her leadership, the university established what is now the Davis College of Business, the Keigwin School of Nursing, the Aviation program and the Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts.

“Known for her unquenchable optimism, her joy for life and her selfless service to others, Kinne was most proud of her connection with students," the university said in a statement. "She continued to counsel and inspire hundreds of Jacksonville University alumni, as well as academic and corporate leaders, throughout her life.”

Kinne was also the first woman to join the Rotary Club of Jacksonville and serve as its president.

The daughter of a newspaper publisher and librarian, Kinne taught piano and music and even served as a public school orchestra conductor before completing college. She went on to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music education from Drake University. While her late husband was serving in Germany after the war, she became the first American woman to earn a doctorate from the Univesity of Frankfurt in Germany. That degree was awarded cum laude, with a triple major in music, English literature and philosophy. In addition, five universities have subsequently awarded her honorary doctoral degrees: Lenoir-Rhyne University, Drake University, Wagner College, Flagler College and Jacksonville University.

“My mother was very energetic and was a leader. So I grew up as a little girl thinking that I could do what my mother does,” Kinne told News4Jax in May 2017 when she was celebrating her 100th birthday. “So she was a great leader and that’s what inspired me.”

Prior to joining JU in 1958 as a professor of humanities, she served as a World War II Army hostess and eventually became the director of three clubs. She later served as a college professor at Tsuda College in Tokyo, Japan, and created volunteer postwar educational programs for Japanese students in Tokyo.

JU’s student center, the Frances Bartlett Kinne University Center, is one of several structures to bear her name, including one at Drake University and an auditorium at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

JU will hold a memorial service later this year to honor Kinne, who served as the university’s president from 1979 to 1989.

University Alumnus and President Tim Cost released the following statement on Kinne’s death:

“The Jacksonville University family has lost a dear friend and a beloved guiding star. Fran Kinne was truly an original, a visionary. She seemingly pioneered the importance of ‘leaning in’ and ‘servant leadership’ decades ago. Her optimism was impenetrable and tenacious; nothing could break her will from creating a positive approach to every opportunity. And she had the rare ability to impart that relentlessly positive spirit in everyone she met.

"Fran was always thinking of others, even when facing her own personal health challenges late in life. And at age 102, she still had the sharp wit and boundless energy that enabled her to so beautifully connect with people, encourage them, extend a kind word. That was her life‘s purpose, to improve the world one person at a time.

"Jacksonville University is the institution it is today thanks to Fran Kinne. Our university motto is fiat lux – let there be light. Until her final days, Fran embodied that guiding principle. She filled our world with light, joy, hope and courage. While we are humbled today by her passing, we are forever grateful for the time we had with her, and for the wisdom and leadership she modeled for us. If a person’s legacy is determined by the impact they have on the lives of others, then Fran’s is immeasurable. It will extend through generations and around the globe for years to come with an enduring challenge to each of us: to live life as well as she did. She will forever be in our memories.”

JU also posted a video message from Cost, in which he calls Kinne “the matriarch of our university."

“I’ve never seen a person, ever, in all my time, in her more than century, bring more joy out of life than Frances Bartlett Kinne,” he said.

Cost joined The Morning Show on Monday to talk about the loss for the university community.

“I appreciate you letting us speak about her for a moment. You know, a lot people talk these days about servant leadership, but Fran was pioneering the whole concept of leaning in and servant leadership back in the 50s and 60s. I think she shattered every glass ceiling that people didn’t even know existed. She left a remarkable legacy, and it’s a privilege to remember her today," Cost said.

To watch the full interview, press play below.

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