In Memoriam: Richard Kinkade

June 3rd, 2020

Richard P. Kinkade, a prolific and award-winning Spanish medievalist scholar who served as the first Dean of Humanities and a revered mentor and professor during 42 years at the University of Arizona, has died. He was 81.

Malcolm Compitello, who was head of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese for 23 years, says Kinkade “was one of the giants in the field” of medieval literature.

“Dick was distinguished as a world-renowned scholar of medieval literature and at that level, he really helped with the department’s international reputation,” Compitello says. “He contributed very richly to the intellectual life of the university. He knew scholars in other fields and other departments and was one of those people who wanted to contribute in any way. I was always impressed by how professional he was and how well he worked with students.”

As dean, Kinkade spearheaded the creation of the Humanities Seminars Program, along with Dorothy Rubel, a humanities advocate who began auditing university courses before working to formalize a lifelong-learning program. Rubel’s efforts spanned nearly a decade before gaining Kinkade’s support and since 1984, the program has served more than 25,000 community members.

“It could not have gained the momentum or been brought to fruition without a very strong and supportive dean and Dick Kinkade was just that,” says current HSP Board Chair Karen Junghans. “He didn’t see education stopping with a college degree. He saw education continuing throughout life and he was so supportive of this program.”

Junghans says she got to know Kinkade when he later served briefly as a board member after retiring and was in awe at how his vision blossomed into such a thriving program.

“He never lost his good feelings toward the Humanities Seminars Program,” she says. “When he came on our board and saw what his vision had led to, he was amazed. From the number of students we had to the number of courses, it was enormous growth and he was just tickled pink at that. His continued enthusiasm and vision for our program was evident and he couldn’t be more pleased.”

Current College of Humanities Dean Alain-Philippe Durand said the leadership of Kinkade and Annette Kolodny, who succeeded him as dean, established the importance of humanities research, teaching and outreach at the university.

“Dick Kinkade was an ideal leader to bring this college into existence,” Durand says. “Having a world-class scholar as dean created a sterling reputation that has been our foundation ever since. He enriched the lives of two generations of students, faculty and community members. He was a great mentor to many of us.”

Born in 1939 in Los Angeles, Kinkade moved to Tucson in 1946, attended Miles and Peter Howell Elementary, Mansfeld Middle, Green Fields Country Day and The Hill School in Pottstown, Penn., where he was All-American Prep School swimmer in three events from 1955-56.

He earned his bachelor’s (1960) and doctoral (1965) degrees from Yale, and returned to Tucson in 1966 to begin his academic career as an assistant professor in the Romance Languages Department. He took a job as head of the Romance Languages Department at Emory University in 1971, remaining there until 1977, when he became head of Romance and Classical Languages Department at University of Connecticut, also spending a year as a visiting professor at Yale.

University of Arizona President Henry Koffler enticed Kinkade to return in 1982, recruiting him to be the first Humanities dean, a position he held until 1987, when he returned to full-time teaching in Department of Spanish and Portuguese, retiring in 2018.

Kinkade received numerous awards for his publications: the Walsh Award (2000) from the Modern Language Association Division on Medieval Spanish Language and Literature; the "Order of Don Quixote" from Sigma Delta Pi National Spanish Honor Society (2000); and the Bishko Prize (2005) from Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies (2004). In his 58 years in academia, Kinkade authored 13 books, more than 100 articles, reviews and papers, and directed dozens of master’s degree theses and Ph.D. dissertations. His latest book, Dawn of a Dynasty: The Life and Times of Infante Manuel of Castile, was published in September 2019.

“Richard Kinkade was a prolific scholar until the end. His last book was just published by one of the most respected academic presses in North America,” says Carine Bourget, Interim Head of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “I salute his impact on the field of Spanish studies, on the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and on the College of Humanities during his outstanding career.”

Robert Fiore, Professor Emeritus of Spanish, says he first knew of Kinkade by reputation. “My professor, a renowned medievalist at UNC Chapel Hill, said to me as a graduate student, ‘You’ve got to meet this Dick Kinkade, the best young medievalist in the country’ and later he was known as the best medievalist in the United States.”

Over the years, Fiore and Kinkade developed a relationship, meeting at conferences and closely following each other’s work. In 1999, after 30 years at Michigan State University, Fiore became a UA professor, and finally he and Kinkade were colleagues in the same department.

“I used to call him my walking encyclopedia,” Fiore says. “He and I were much more than colleagues. Our tea sessions, three or four times a week for 20 years in his office or mine, were our classroom. Dick shared with me his perceptive intellect, his firm commitment for the integrity of research, his inextinguishable determination to teach and especially, his wry sense of humor. I cherish those tea sessions.”

Fiore says Kinkade’s widespread interests and knowledge, ranged far beyond his field. Kinkade was a classical guitarist and pianist and a pilot who built his own plane. Fiore was welcomed as family by Kinkade and his wife Kiki, who managed the Tucson Greek Festival, with Kinkade regularly pitching in to bus tables.

“He invited me numerous times to their table. I got to know his wife and kids and mother-in-law and became a member of the family. He was open-hearted that way,” Fiore says. “What a privilege to know somebody like that.”

A celebration of life will likely occur in the months ahead. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Eckankar or the ALS Association.