F.M. Kirby II
Businessman, philanthropist
Born: November 23, 1919 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Lived in: New Vernon, New Jersey
Died: February 8, 2011, in North Carolina
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2018: Enterprise

Fred Morgan Kirby II appears to have enjoyed taking risks. He reportedly got his motorcycle license at age 63 and a Jet-Ski at 85. He also took business risks—and the biggest ones tended to pay off in a big way.

But Fred Kirby also gave back, as was his family’s tradition.

Born into an entrepreneurial family, Kirby attended private schools in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before studying at Lafayette University in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he played on the football team. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He served during World War II at bases in England and France and participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Kirby’s grandfather, Fred. M. Kirby, was a five-and-dime merchant who became one of the founding partners of F.W. Woolworth Company. As his family’s wealth grew, the elder Kirby used his millions to seed a family foundation, the F.M. Kirby Foundation, in 1931.

The younger Kirby displayed his penchant for bold financial maneuvers in 1986 when he sold a key asset of the Alleghany Corporation, the railroad holding company he had taken over from his father, Allan P. Kirby. Using the proceeds from the sale, Kirby purchased two title insurance companies. The deals would transform Alleghany into an insurance giant.

In addition to operating Alleghany as chairman and chief executive, Kirby assumed the helm of the family foundation in 1967. Under his leadership as volunteer president for more than 40 years, the foundation’s assets grew to more than $500 million. In all, the foundation has distributed more than $440 million to non-profits, primarily in New Jersey. Kirby expanded the scope of the foundation to support non-profits in education, the arts and humanities, human services, medical research, and other fields.

Known as an adventurous individual, Kirby flew planes, sailed, and was a member of a fox-hunting club in New Jersey, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Clearly a man of action, he lived up to the Kirby family motto: “Deeds, not words.”

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