E. Robert Kinney ’39
Margee and Bob Kinney ’39
The Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal is bestowed only on occasions when the College wishes to honor an alumnus or alumna who has performed distinguished service to the larger worldwide community and has been deemed a Bates College graduate of outstanding accomplishment.
Today we honor a man whose singular and sustained accomplishments warrant this great honor. E. Robert Kinney ’39, has had a storied career as a creative and talented entrepreneur and a civic-minded business leader. He has served as a skilled Trustee and adviser to Bates and is a leading philanthropist who has set a standard others aspire to.
Bob came to Depression-era Bates from Pittsfield, Maine a small town north of Augusta, in 1935. The first in his family to attend college, when money for living expenses ran out Dean Harry Rowe arranged for a local mill owner to put Bob up, in exchange for working around his home. On graduation day, his last stop was to see Dean Rowe. Bob said: “I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’ll repay the scholarship you gave me. I owe this school something.”
A history major and economics minor, Bob embarked upon a remarkable career as a business and civic leader shortly after he left Bates. His first success was an innovative idea—for a penny a piece he bought the crabs that Maine lobstermen usually threw away, canned the meat and sold it. Ten years later, his company was grossing $2 million annually.
After selling the crab canning business, he moved to Gorton’s Seafood Company where he launched another new idea–turning fish into a convenience food by packaging it as frozen sticks and in precooked frozen dinners. As company president, he oversaw a seven-fold increase in sales, and in 1968, General Mills bought the firm. Bob became president of General Mills in 1973 and retired as its CEO eight years later. For several years thereafter, he was president of the board of directors at IDS Mutual Fund Group.
Ever mindful of his promise to Dean Rowe, he has more than repaid his debt to Bates by serving as a Trustee for 27 years, 17 of those as chair of the Board of Fellows. He chaired the national campaign that built Ladd library, provided major support for Pettengill Hall, was instrumental in securing the funding for the Olin Arts Center and established endowed funds for unrestricted use, a professorship and scholarship funds.
On the national level, Bob has been an active member of numerous nonprofit boards and councils with causes that range from improving education to the proper use of natural resources and supporting the arts to youth development. Bob, as CEO of General Mills, was an enthusiastic participant in U. S. government public service campaigns including anti drug abuse efforts and environmental education.
As private citizens, Bob and his wife have also given back generously to the communities they have lived in through the years. Bob’s leadership in Minnesota has included directorship of the Minnesota Symphony, the Guthrie Theater and the YMCA to list but a few. In Maine he has shared his time and treasure with the Bangor Theological Seminary, the Maine Central Institute, Friends of Acadia National Park, and many other nonprofits and Maine businesses.
Bob, it’s quite a distance from paying pennies for crabs to safeguarding the holdings of countless investors in a Fortune 500 company, and you have made that journey as a model of one who has performed distinguished service to your College and the larger community throughout your life and career. You have held steadfastly to those values of service, compassion and civic responsibility that all of us at Bates hold so dear.
For these and your many other accomplishments that are too great in number to list here, your College has deemed you to be a Bates College graduate of outstanding accomplishment. On behalf of the Bates College Alumni Council I am honored to present you with the highest honor we have, The Benjamin Elijah Mays Award at this, the third gathering of the Benjamin Bates Society in Minneapolis, Minnesota.