Wife of 59 years to longtime Seattle pastor the Rev. Samuel McKinney, she reigned for four decades as first lady of Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Louise McKinney was a philanthropist, patron of the arts and longtime educator who believed that all children were capable of learning, no matter their station in life.
As a teacher and later principal at a number of Seattle schools, she prodded and nudged institutions to do right by kids — especially African-American youth — and established scholarships to ensure that the brightest among them got a fair shot.
Wife of 59 years to longtime Seattle pastor the Rev. Samuel McKinney, Mrs. McKinney reigned for four decades as first lady of Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Not the typical preacher’s wife, Mrs. McKinney lived life on her own terms and was never shy about speaking her mind, her husband said.
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“She created the wind beneath my wings.”
Mrs. McKinney died Wednesday of complications from an earlier fall. She was 82.
“She lived her life in a way that some people liked and that forced some to take a second look … ” said Nate Miles, a board member of the University of Washington Foundation.
“She could give you the impression that she was royalty in the way she carried herself but she was not above getting down to where little kids lived and wiping their noses and standing up for their rights. Her commitment to children was infectious.”
Kurt Beattie, artistic director of Seattle’s ACT Theatre, where Mrs. McKinney served on the board until a few years ago, called her “one of the great ladies.”
She challenged theater staff members to embrace productions and casts that reflected broader diversity.
“She was enormously cultivated, a world citizen who had a view of humanity in the world that few people possessed,” Beattie said. “Every time I was around her I learned from her.”
Mrs. McKinney was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where she graduated from Case Western Reserve University.
She met Sam McKinney at church and the two later married, moving first to Providence, R.I., where he pastored, before relocating to Seattle in 1958 to lead Mount Zion Baptist Church.
“She inspired a generation of people to do well and was a source of inspiration to me — and I guess I was to her,” the Rev. McKinney said.
His earliest memories of his wife are of a little girl in Cleveland. “That little girl in pigtails became quite a lady,” he said.
The two would travel the country and the world, separately and as a couple, leaving their mark in areas from religion to education to civil rights. And over time, he got used to her correcting him — even from her hospital bed.
“She was her own person,” he said. “She was a spiritual and spirited person. We were cut out for each other.”
In Seattle, Mrs. McKinney was hired by Seattle Public Schools, working in the district as a teacher and later principal at a number of schools.
She was serving as director of academic achievement when she retired in 1994.
But her passion for education did not stop with her retirement.
Mrs. McKinney served on the boards of a number of local nonprofits, in the area of education, child development and health care — from Town Hall to Bailey-Boushay House in Madison Valley. At Mount Zion, she established a scholarship for young people and was involved in the creation of a playwrights program at ACT for junior high and high-school students. At the Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library, a meeting room is named in her honor.
Mrs. McKinney also was partner with a group of other minority women in a business that operated several stores at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“My mother was incredibly warm, funny and engaging,” said daughter Rhoda McKinney-Jones. “And she was tenacious. Everyone was joking that she was in her hospital bed, raising money for scholarships.”
Friends describe Mrs. McKinney’s sense of humor and her warm, generous spirit.
She was direct and straightforward, recalled friend Susan Trapnell, former managing director of ACT, “but at the same time so positive and supportive of everything that she improved anything she came into contact with.”
In what her friends call “Classic Louise,” Mrs. McKinney threw her 82nd birthday party in her hospital room. Her husband said she invited a man in the next room who’d not had any visitors.
Pat Stanford, wife of the late John Stanford, who was Seattle schools superintendent during the 1990s, said Mrs. McKinney tried to draft her into service on a local theater board even before Stanford got to Seattle in the mid-1990s.
Now residing in Charlotte, N.C., Pat Stanford recalls her longtime friend as an amazing woman.
“She was John’s Kitchen Cabinet,” Stanford said of the unofficial role of adviser to the superintendent that Mrs. McKinney held.
“If John came across something he wasn’t sure about he wouldn’t hesitate to call Louise,” she said. And even if he was sure about it, Louise wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and tell him what she thought wasn’t going right.”
Norm Rice, CEO of the Seattle Foundation, said that as Seattle mayor in the 1990s, he came to depend on Mrs. McKinney’s expertise in areas of education and student achievement.
“I don’t think there’s any person who identifies more with education and advancement of young African-American kids as it relates to education,” he said “She gave so many young people hope in themselves and the idea that they could achieve anything.”
“Her impact will be missed and her legacy will be cherished.”
In addition to her husband and daughter Rhoda, who lives in Doylestown, Pa., Mrs. McKinney is survived by daughter Lora-Ellen McKinney, of Renton; grandson, Kent McKinney Jones, brother, John (Sonny) Jones Jr., of Cleveland, and a son-in-law, Sam Henry Jones Jr.
Services are planned for 11 a.m. Aug. 31 at Mount Zion, 1634 19th Ave. in Seattle
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.