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John C.B. Kirby Sr., retired businessman, dies

John C.B. Kirby Sr. founded an insurance agency, furniture manufacturer and Christmas tree farm.
John C.B. Kirby Sr. founded an insurance agency, furniture manufacturer and Christmas tree farm. (Family photo/HANDOUT)

John C.B. Kirby Sr., a retired businessman, died April 3 at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Catonsville of complications from dementia He was 85.

John Carroll Brown Kirby Sr., son of Joseph Star Kirby Sr., a partner in the Kirmo Laundry, and his wife, Lilly Mohler Kirby, a homemaker, was born and raised in Catonsville.

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After graduating in 1954 from Mount Saint Joseph High School in Irvington, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1958 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

Mr. Kirby was the founder of three successful businesses, the Kirby Insurance Agency; Lakewood Manufacturing in Westminster, which produced furniture; and a 40-acre Christmas tree farm — known as The Farm — in Taneytown.

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The Christmas tree farm, which a son operated for 25 years until 2012, featured free hot chocolate and cookies along with a petting zoo, and, of course, Santa Claus. Mr. Kirby had a pond dug and a large pavilion erected; they became the venue for parties for several generations of Catonsville families as well as boys and girls clubs and the Boy Scouts.

Organizations always left with a donation from the Kirby family, according to family members.

Mr. Kirby, who was known as Johnny, took it upon himself to send two young women he barely knew to college. “He did this knowing that he was their only hope of getting a college degree,” said a son, John C. Kirby Jr. of Taneytown. “They did not have to ask. He offered.”

Mr. Kirby, a longtime Catonsville resident, enjoyed working out and playing golf at Baltimore Country Club and Rolling Road Country Club, where he was a member.

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He and his wife, the former Pat Rhodes, whom he married in 1977, enjoyed spending time with a large circle of friends dubbed the “Cronies.” She died in 2020.

Mr. Kirby was a communicant of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, 30 Melvin Ave., Catonsville, where a funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. April 23. Masks and social distancing that follows Centers for Disease Control guidelines will be observed. The Mass will also be livestreamed at stmarkchurch-catonsville.org.

In addition to his son, Mr. Kirby is survived by three other sons, Joseph C. Kirby Sr. of Taneytown, James C. Kirby Sr. of Catonsville and Jeffrey C. Kirby of Queenstown; a daughter, Maureen Kirby Widlake of Catonsville; 15 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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