Kenneth Curtin
Kenneth Curtin

Service Information

When Friday, May 4th, 2012 11:00am Officiating Rev. Msgr. Walter F. Kenny Location St. Augustine Church Address 18 Cherry Ave. Larchmont, NY 10538

Obituary of Kenneth Michael Curtin

Kenneth Michael Curtin 1931 - 2012 He was a self-made man. He was born in Brooklyn, New York during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Both of his parents were Irish immigrants who didn't attend college. His father enlisted in the Army during World War One, served in Europe and returned to drive a trolley for the MTA in New York. His mother worked as a chamber maid in hotels and as a token booth clerk. As a young woman his mother was a governess and taught French. She once worked as an upstairs maid at Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's home in Oyster Bay. He went to work at the age of nine. He rose at five o'clock in the morning, often six days a week, to deliver milk from a horse drawn wagon. At age ten he graduated to stocking shelves in a grocery store. He would sometimes get a few pieces of fruit to bring home as a bonus for a week's hard work. He gave all of his wages to his mother. He tended a victory garden in his family's backyard during World War Two. In the winter he kept the family furnace stoked with coal to heat the house. To save money and help feed the family, he and his mother would walk a mile to Sheepshead Bay early in the morning to wait for the fishing fleet to sell the day's catch. They would then bargain for the remainders and have fried fish for breakfast. Fish was his lifelong favorite food when dining out. He attended St. Edmunds grammar school and served as an altar boy. He developed a bad ear infection as a child and underwent painful therapies that involved inserting a large needle in his ear to drain the fluid. This treatment left him completely deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. One year his father came home late Christmas Eve full of cheer but without his wages. There was no money left to buy a Christmas tree. His sisters began to cry. Normally they would all wait until late Christmas Eve to buy a tree to get the lowest possible price. His mother told him to get a saw and the two of them marched out into the cold over to 16th street where the subway ran above ground. They climbed up a snow covered embankment and cut down a small evergreen tree, dragged it home and decorated it. He attended St. Augustine's high school in downtown Brooklyn on a scholarship. He took the subway to get to school each morning. He ran track and played baseball. The school didn't have its own track so he would take the subway all over New York, to places like the Polo Grounds in Harlem, to train and compete. He did his homework on the subway. Often he would fall asleep and be woken by an angry commuter he had just leaned on. As a junior he ran the second fastest mile in New York City Catholic high school history. As a senior, he won the Bishop's award, given each year to the student with the highest grade point average for all four previous years, in all of New York City's Catholic high schools. In the summers he worked at Coney Island, parking cars during the day and as a beachcomber at night picking up trash. Six nights a week, he walked the beaches and under the boardwalks from night until dawn with a shoulder bag and broom handle that had a nail protruding from one end to spear the trash. He vividly remembered the foreman yelling to him and his co-workers all night, "SPREAD EM OUT…ZIG ZAG…I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANYONE ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW!" Under the boardwalks he encountered drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes, johns, the homeless, gay men, young lovers, pickpockets and thugs. Every morning, at the end of his shift, he would peel off his clothes down to his bathing suit and plunge into the surf. He loved the ocean. He loved to body surf on big waves. He wanted his ashes scattered in the ocean at Coney Island Beach when he died. When it came time to go to college, the Christian Brothers at his high school encouraged him to go to a Catholic school. He won a combined athletic and academic scholarship to St. Mary's College outside of San Francisco. The experience gave him a lifelong love of California. He hitchhiked across the United States riding in the cabs and beds of trucks to get back and forth to St. Mary's. He played on the freshman football and baseball teams. He transferred as a sophomore to Cornell University where he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and Physics. He put himself through college by working in a fraternity serving meals and washing dishes. In the summers he did manual labor, once clearing swamps for a utility company. It gave him a life-long immunity from mosquito bites. After Cornell, he was drafted and served in the Army during the Korean War. As a former track athlete and Jesuit trained student he found the rigors of basic training easy. Based on his performance on aptitude tests he was selected to train in Texas as a combat medic. He treated gunshot wounds, recovered corpses from fatal road accidents and treated soldiers for a plethora of diseases. After being honorably discharged from the Army he began his career as an engineer at American Bosch Arma, a defense electronics firm on Long Island. After ABA he worked at RCA and became a Senior Member of the Technical Staff. He held a top secret security clearance and worked in New York and at the Pentagon developing the guidance system for the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and the fire control system for the B-52 Bomber. He conducted research on lasers that would later be used to develop medical and telecommunications technologies. During this time he earned a Master's Degree in Applied Mathematics from New York University and a diploma in Operations Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also was a member of the faculty and taught statistics and reliability at the Graduate School of Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey He met his wife Anne at a Knights of Columbus dance in Brooklyn. That night he told a friend "I met the girl I'm going to marry but she needs a few years to grow up." A few years later they married, moved to Great Neck on Long Island and eventually had three children together. After two years of marriage they moved back to Brooklyn to the same house he grew up in on East 19th Street. It was a two story row house and his parents lived on the first floor. He didn't move back to Brooklyn because he wanted to. He did it to help his parents. In the late 1960's, while married with children, he decided to change careers and pursue a job on Wall Street to improve the family's standard of living. He took an entry level job as a research analyst with Loeb Rhodes, at one fifth of his then current salary. He later held positions in corporate finance with New York Securities, Drexel Burnham Lambert and Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. where he was responsible for investment management and early stage financings, initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions for a number of companies including Decision Industries, Photonics, Diagnostic/Retrieval Systems Inc., International Rectifier Corp., Lojack Corporation and Vidal Sassoon. Although he eventually became a Republican, he worked on the campaigns of JFK and RFK in New York. He played touch football with Robert Kennedy and Ted Sorenson in Central Park, where his speed on the football field caused him to chosen first in their pick-up games. In 1972 he moved his family to Larchmont New York to a house on Long Island Sound. In 1983, after the divestiture of AT&T, he was a founder and Chairman of the Board of one of the first wireless competitive local exchange carriers, LOCATE, Inc., that helped usher in the rapid growth of the telecommunications services industry. The company was later acquired by AT&T. He was also an adviser to numerous startup technology companies and venture capital firms. He was a regular at a well-known midtown Irish bar/restaurant named Reidy's on 54th Street, run by Bill Reidy, a victim of childhood polio who ran the restaurant and did every conceivable job in it on crutches. He admired Bill greatly. At Reidy's, he would be greeted like Norm in the TV show Cheers. When he walked through the door half the people at the bar would shout his name as he walked past. He was friends with lawyers, bankers, TV executives, bartenders, busboys, barbers, shoe shine men, masons, carpenters, painters, parking garage attendants and anyone who, as he put it, "actually worked for a living." He loved working class people. He became good friends with a plumber in Larchmont. The house he lived in was built in 1927 and everything in it was old. The two of them would talk for hours about plumbing problems and solutions, engineer to craftsman. They never talked in terms of putting in a new system. That would be the easy way out. He believed in education and learning but thought education was mostly a self-process. He believed that most conventional education "was a synonym for conformity" and encouraged independent thought and the questioning of authority. At a parent teacher conference for his youngest son, the teacher told him that his son wasn't performing as he should and "might have a learning disability." He told the teacher that "he might have a teaching disability." He accepted nothing at face value. He coached little league baseball for nine years. He played every child regardless of skill level, long before it was mandatory or politically correct to do so. He drafted kids that the other coaches wouldn't touch including problem children, non-athletes and girls when girl ball players were rare. He never raised his voice as a coach. He never once talked about winning and losing. He just taught the fundamentals. His teams won most of their games. He was the kind of parent who quietly watched his child play sports and didn't make a big fuss, win or lose. He didn't brag or complain about his child's performance to other parents. He just watched. He didn't believe in allowances for children, air conditioning or sleeping late on Saturdays. He believed in hard work and personal responsibility. He wasn't materialistic. He didn't own a watch or wear jewelry. He almost never shopped for clothes and wore them until they were threads. He repaired things himself whenever he could. When he needed to buy a new car it became a lesson in negotiating. In 1973, he decided to buy a Toyota. He waited until the end of the model year when the new models began to fill the dealer's lot and crowd out the old ones. He put on tattered jeans, ratty shoes, no socks and a worn white t-shirt, his typical weekend ensemble, to shop for a car. Unshaven, he walked around the lot looking for the least appealing car. Way in a corner he found a 1972 Toyota Corolla with a 4 speed manual transmission, an AM only radio, no air-conditioning, painted a horrible shade of brownish orange that could only be described as a mistake and haggled with the salesman at length over price, saying "I don't even want a car". He bought the car new for $1800. He drove it back and forth to Manhattan every morning for almost ten years. When it got dented he didn't repair the dents. When the dents rusted he let them rust. He didn't worry about material things. He read widely and enjoyed non-fiction of all kinds including history, biography, current events and sports. He loved anything by Barbara Tuchman, William Manchester and the Durants. He read the New York Times every day from cover to cover. He almost always completed the entire New York Times crossword puzzle in pen. He enjoyed classical music. On weekends his home was filled with the sounds of Bach, Vivaldi and Beethoven. He felt a strong connection to Beethoven and his struggle with deafness. He played his music loudly. He was religious and attended church regularly. He studied theology and was an admirer of Hans Kung. He required his children to attend church and enforced their attendance with spot quizzes on the essence and meaning of that week's Gospel. Failure to answer accurately resulted in lost privileges. He had a small circle of friends who were all accomplished self-made men. His great love later in life was being a grandfather. He loved having his grandchildren as a large presence in his life and attended their sporting events and accomplishments whenever he could. He didn't complain. He led by example. He did whatever he had to do. He stood up against Parkinson's disease for 15 years. His family loved him and will miss him greatly. He is survived by his wife of 53 years Anne, his sons Stephen, Christopher and Sean and his grandchildren Liam, Seamus, Catherine, Elizabeth and Easton and his sisters Ann and Kathleen.
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