Community members mourn loss of longtime Port Arthur champion

Published 12:40 am Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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Russel Buss thought of Aletha Kirkwood as a mother figure.

“I lost my mother at a very young age,” he said. “We used to sit in her living room and reminisce and talk about things. I feel so bad that I didn’t get to see her one last time.”

Kirkwood died at Harbor Hospice of Beaumont on April 4, two weeks shy of what would have been her 100th birthday.

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Born and Raised in Port Arthur, Kirkwood is remembered as an active member of the community. She spent 14 years as an educator with the Port Arthur Independent School District and served the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, of which she was past president.

“She was a devoted member of the EDC board,” said Floyd Batiste, who spent 17 years as the organization’s CEO. “A lot of things that we accomplished in this town while I was there, she spearheaded the vision. She was a very hard worker, and she wanted to see her projects through.”

Aletha Kirkwood is pictured with Mark Porterie at the 2016 Community Builder’s Award ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

That was how she referred to them — her projects. And Batiste said even after leaving the board, she continued to call and check on the EDC’s progress.

“She was very much about Port Arthur,” he said. “I’ve never seen a person that had the drive that she had in her to make things better. I think her whole goal was to make things better for Port Arthur.”

While visiting her in 2022 at Buckner Calder Woods in Beaumont, Buss said Kirkwood told him how much she wanted to return to her hometown.

“She was Port Arthur personified,” Buss said. “She loved our city more than you can believe.”

Buss is a past president of the Rotary Club of Port Arthur, of which Kirkwood was also a member.

“She loved getting hugs from all of the members of Rotary,” he recalled. “She loved the closeness of giving people a loving hug.”

Kirkwood and her late husband George were members of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Port Arthur. She was a member of the Port Arthur chapter of P.E.O. International, a member of the Port Arthur Beautification Commission, a member of Jefferson County Master Gardeners and received the 2016 Community Builder Award in 2016 from the Port Arthur Masonic Lodge.

“She was a caring, loving person,” Buss said.

In November 1997, Kirkwood wrote a column in The Port Arthur News thanking those who participated in a Port Arthur beautification project.

She ended the editorial with, “It’s your city. What are you doing to make it better?”

A memorial service for Kirkwood is planned at 1 p.m. April 15 at Crestwood Baptist Church in Lumberton.

“She will be truly missed by many, many people in this town,” Batiste said.