Rear Admiral John Elson Kirkpatrick, USNR (Ret.) was born February 8, 1908 in Oklahoma City. After briefly attending the United States Military Institute at West Point, he enrolled in the Marion Institute in Alabama. During that time, he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated in 1931. In June 1932 John and Eleanor Blake were married. After serving aboard the USS Arizona, California and Cincinnati, he resigned his commission with the active regular Navy and attended Harvard Business School in 1935.
Mr. Kirkpatrick remained in the Navy Reserve, and he and Eleanor lived in Tulsa until 1941 when he was called back into the Navy. His longest tour of duty during World War II was aboard the USS North Carolina where he served as Sky Defense Officer. In 1943 he was appointed Officer-in-Charge of the Pacific Fleet Machine Gun School and Commanding Officer at the Anti-Aircraft Training Center at Waianae in Oahu, Hawaii. In 1945, he served as Gunnery Officer aboard the USS Alaska. Later that year he was appointed Executive Officer of the USS Oklahoma City. He was soon released from active duty thereafter.
In addition to citations and other medals, Admiral Kirkpatrick was awarded two Bronze stars: one related to his work as Air Defense Officer aboard the USS North Carolina. He was also recognized for improving 20mm and 40mm submarine gun sights. In October 1946 John was named senior battalion commander of Oklahoma City's Naval Reserve unit. He worked to upgrade the reserve facilities which included the opening of a Naval Reserve training center in 1948. While remaining with the Naval Reserves, he was promoted in August 1951 to Captain and in 1955 to Rear Admiral just before his retirement.
As a civilian, Mr. Kirkpatrick began his long career in the oil and gas business in 1946. Kirkpatrick Oil Company was organized in 1950. He was also a business leader in Oklahoma City banking where he served on Liberty Bank's board of directors for fifty years.
John and Eleanor began their many years as philanthropists by establishing the Kirkpatrick Foundation in 1955 and the Oklahoma City Community Foundation in 1969. The Kirkpatrick Center opened in 1976 which included expanded areas for science, arts and space programming. Other important contributions over the years included the Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Building at Oklahoma City University; Oklahoma City Zoological Society; National Cowboy Hall & Western Heritage Museum; Lyric Theatre; and the John E. Kirkpatrick Horticulture Center at Oklahoma State University/Oklahoma City. In 1960 John joined a coalition that successfully petitioned the U.S. Navy to donate the anchor from the USS Oklahoma to the Oklahoma Historical Society. In 1973, John helped to bring the USS Batfish, a World War II submarine, to Muskogee, Oklahoma as a memorial.
John was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1962. He died on October 3, 2006.