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Robert Allen Kinsley, philanthropist who founded construction firm, dies

Robert Allen Kinsley turned $19 into Kinsley Construction, which today employs more than 3,000 people.
Robert Allen Kinsley turned $19 into Kinsley Construction, which today employs more than 3,000 people.

Robert Allen Kinsley, who founded a construction firm and went on to become a philanthropist, died of cancer Wednesday at his York, Pennsylvania, home. He was 79 and also lived much of the year in Monkton.

His firm was involved with large historic preservation projects throughout Baltimore, and Mr. Kinsley was a champion of land preservation. He created the Gettysburg Foundation and was an advocate for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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“He ran under the radar as a donor,” said Emily Emerick, director of Ladew Topiary Gardens in Harford County. “He created a construction empire ... and was extraordinarily generous."

Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of Robert Wright Kinsley, a hardware wholesaler, and his wife, Molly Savin, a commercial artist. He was a 1958 graduate of William Penn High School in York, and attended classes at York Junior College, Penn State York and the University of Baltimore. He later received an honorary degree from York College of Pennsylvania.

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“My father never placed himself above anyone else. He was a successful but humble businessman,” said his son, Robert Kinsley of York.

Another son, Timothy Kinsley, also of York, said: “He was keen on recognizing character in others and when he saw that, he wanted you on his team. He didn’t stop there. He continued to mentor you and make sure you succeeded."

Mr. Kinsley started working for C. Joseph Deller, a Dallastown, Pennsylvania, excavating contractor and soon started his own lawn-grading business.

Mr. Kinsley met his future wife, Anne Whalen, at the wedding of his then-boss’ daughter. After Mr. Kinsley married, he and his wife shepherded their business and their family together.

"He told me that when he and Anne came home from their honeymoon, he opened his bank statement and he had a net worth of $19,” said a friend, Jay Young of Bel Air. “With that, he bought a shovel and a wheelbarrow and rented a truck. And then he went to work. And, boy, did he go to work. Today Kinsley Construction employs more than 3,000 people.”

By 1967, Kinsley Construction was incorporated and shortly after entered the general construction field.

His sons said he was proud of their partnership growing the businesses with the five Kinsley children,. They said he was known for his business mind, his quick wit and his unlimited energy.

Mr. Kinsley continued working. The business he founded include construction management, general construction, specialty construction trades, real estate development, property management, manufacturing and professional services.

Mr. Kinsley’s firm renovated the old Mount Vernon Mill on Falls Road, now known as Mill No. 1; the old Patterson Park High School; the Hotel Indigo on Franklin Street in Mount Vernon; and the Gunther, a former brewery that is now apartments in Brewers Hill in Southeast Baltimore. This firm built and has an ownership in McHenry Row in Locust Point.

Mr. Kinsley served on the boards of the York Bank and Trust, the old Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co., D&E Communications Co. and Ruscilli Construction Co.

Mr. Kinsley s a founding member of the Agricultural and Industrial Museum of York County.

Throughout his life, he was had interests in history and preservation. He created the Gettysburg Foundation and its work to assist the National Park Service to design and build a new museum and visitor center for the Gettysburg National Military Park.

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His interests in land preservation led him to become a founding member of the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County. His son said his father felt proud to have preserved thousands of acres of land in southern Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Harford counties.

Mr. Kinsley received the 2015 George W. Archer Fellow Award from the Historical Society of Harford County.

Mr. Kinsley enjoyed spending time in the fields and on the wooded trails of his farms. He was a horseback rider, hunter and fisherman. He was a joint master of the Elkridge Harford Hunt Club.

He would assign his work crews to historic preservation projects that needed help. He built a new foundation for the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station in Aberdeen. When spotted that roofing work was needed at an African Methodist Episcopal Church on York Road in Baltimore County, he sent his trucks and workers to assist.

In addition to his sons, survivors include his wife of 60 years; three other sons, Patrick Kinsley, Jonathan Kinsley and Christopher Kinsley, all of York; three sisters, Anne Wagner of York, Debra Cooper of Bowie and Elizabeth Ricklefs of York; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A private service will be held later this summer. Kuhner Associates Funeral Directors at 863 S. George St. in York, is in charge of arrangements.

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