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Robert Estes Kennington | by Robert of Fairfax
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Robert Estes Kennington

The Story of Jackson


Biographical sketches of the builders of the capital of Mississippi


Volume II


J. F. Hyer Publishing Company


Jackson, Mississippi, 1953


[brackets are annotations by RGK]


Robert Estes Kennington


[page 15, The Story of Jackson]


Ranking foremost among the business civic, church and social leaders of his city and state, Robert Estes Kennington is one whose life story is in the great American tradition. His success in building what is indisputably Mississippi’s "finest and largest" department store did not come as the result of inherited properties and money, but from a far greater legacy of thrift, determination, expert judgment, courage and vision.


Orphaned at an early age and deprived of formal schooling by the necessity of earning his own livelihood, young Robert Kennington surmounted obstacles which would have downed a less sturdy character at the outset and rose to be one of the ablest and most highly respected men in his field in the nation. The word failure was not in Robert Kennington’s vocabulary. Destined for great things, he displayed at an early age the intelligence, stamina and will to succeed, and the magnificent department store in the heart of downtown Jackson, capital city of a state toward which the eyes of the nation are turned, is a monument to his unerring judgment, his keen sense of business, his meticulous attention to detail and his concern for the welfare of others.


Born March 19, 1876, in Columbus, Georgia [other records indicate Phenix City, Alabama which is adjacent and to the west of Columbus], young Kennington complet4d four grades in public school in Camilla, Georgia, before he was forced to quit his formal studies and go to work. In his own words, Robert Estes Kennington was educated in the "school of hard knocks." At ten years of age, he began helping on of his uncles in the latter’s store in Camilla, Georgia, sweeping out and performing odd jobs. He earned his first dollar delivering soda samples in Camilla when he was 11 years old. Later, he went to Pelham, Georgia, to work in another uncle’s store, and his wages here were five dollars a month and board.


Both of the uncles moved to Mississippi to establish mercantile and general stores in Yazoo city and Jackson, and when Robert was 14 years old, he joined them, becoming associated with the Jackson store. Displaying the farsightedness which carried him far in the business world, young Kennington at 15 took a six-month business course, and at 16, was keeping books in his uncle’s mercantile establishment. His talent for merchandising became evident at this time, and when he was 17, he was made manager o the Yazoo City store, which he was eventually able to purchase.


Later, his interest a Yazoo City was transferred to Jackson, the Jones Brothers became the Jones Brothers Company, building two stores in Jackson located on South State and Pearl Streets, the general merchandise store having entrances on South State, and the grocery and general supply store facing on Pearl Street.


Business establishments at that period in Jackson’s history depended largely on the wagon trade with neighboring counties, and when in about 1900, the Gulf and Ship Island Rail Road was built through to Jackson, many of the merchants felt that the wagon trade was doomed and their own financial ruin impending. This was not so with R. E. Kennington. His faith in the future was secure, and with the clear vision which has always been apparent in his business ventures, he predicted that while the wagon trade would largely disappear, it would be replaced by a bigger and better volume of business from an extended trade area.


He prophesied: "We won’t lose anything--on the contrary, we will get the cream of the trade." He was right, although the change in mode of travel proved revolutionary in more ways than one for the merchants. They found it necessary to change their stocks and adopt more modern business methods. Gone was the old supply business, and gone was the practice of bartering bales of cotton for groceries and other necessities.


It was at this period in Mr. Kennington’s business career that he and his uncles, differing in opinion concerning methods of handling the trade, agreed that the young nephew was to take charge of the general merchandise store on South State Street while the uncles were to continue operating the wholesale grocery and supply store on South State Street. The Jones-Kennington Dry Goods Company was incorporated and continued in existence for several years.


In 1905, Mr. Kennington saw that business was swinging from South State Street to Capitol Street, and once more displaying the keen vision and the courage which have been part of his most successful transactions, he decided to build a modern department store on the corner of Capitol and Congress Streets. This site had been occupied for years by the old St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and at the time, the church was erecting a new building on the corner of West and Capitol Streets. The old site of the church was bought and on April 7, 1906, the Kennington Dry Goods Company opened for business in its present home.


In 1906, the new corporation was under Mr. Kennington’s complete control. At that time, however, he owned only one-third interest in the corporation and the capital sock of $40,000 consisted entirely of merchandise and accounts. In 1911, Mr. Kennington bought out the Jones’ shares in the store, and the R. E. Kennington Company, as we know it today, was on its way. Major expansions came in 1925, 1941 and another 25 percent increase in the store’s physical plant in 1948.


Over all the years, Mr. Kennington kept his finger on the pulse of the buying public and anticipated needs before they presented themselves. By keeping his own books in the early days of the store, Mr. Kennington knew exactly what was happening and what to expect in the business day by day. He opened the store in the mornings and closed it late at nights, and of all the people in the store, "the boss" was always the busiest man on the premises.


As an employer he has always been kind, courteous and considerate. He has demanded and received the best of his employees and they in turn have been rewarded. As a younger man, he would never ask an employee to do more than he would do himself, and he, too, was rewarded by the loyal devotion of his workers to himself and their painstaking attention to the business.


Mr. Kennington pioneered in many ways in the business field. His store was one of the first to take advantage of the radical shift in location from South State to Capitol Street; the first in the state to boast an elevator; the first to depart from the barter and dicker system and fix a uniform price on merchandise; a leader in shorter working hours for employees; and the first to air-condition its building in Mississippi. All Kennington employees today are covered by a variety of all-inclusive benefit plans.


While in his late teens and before transferring his interests to Jackson, Mr. Kennington married Miss Bethunia Battaile, a member of a fine old Yazoo City family. Their union was blessed with four children: Robert George Kennington, Marian Kennington (now deceased [she died in 1924, see Gordin, page 390]), who became the wife of Dr. Archie Ewing Gordin; John Andrew Kennington and Cordelia Kennington, who is now Mrs. Thomas Burkett [census and ship records indicate his name may have been spelled Burkitt, he died by a stroke of lightening on the golf course]. There are two grandchildren: Robert Kennington Gordon, now married and the father of three; and Marian (Kennington) Stevens whose little son bears her father’s name, John Kennington Stevens.


In addition to his family and store, Mr. Kennington has demonstrated a genuine and broad interest in community, state, and national affairs. A great traveler, Mr. Kennington is familiar with the large cities of the country but is unswerving in his loyalty to Jackson. He has been interested from time to time in a large number of other business enterprises. He organized the predecessor of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce and the Mississippi State Fair, and was a charter member of the Jackson Rotary Club, serving one year as its president, and now holding an honorary membership. He was chairman of the committee that established Belhaven College, a girls’ school of his own Presbyterian denomination, and assisted in organizing the Mississippi Cotton Co-op Association in 1930.


Mr. Kennington organized and was president of the Mississippi Rehabilitation Corporation, 1927-28, for financial relief of flood sufferers; served as a member of the executive committee of the State Board of Welfare, appointed by Governor Mike Conner; was vice-president and director of the National Retail Dry Goods Association; served as a member of the Domestic Distribution Committee of the United States Chamber of Commerce; was Mississippi chairman of the R.F.C. in Jackson, Mississippi, Office; and organized the Regional Agricultural Corporation of Jackson and served as its president until August 1, 1933.


In addition to being president and director of R. E. Kennington Company, Mr. Kennington is also vice president and director of the Kennington Investment Company, Jackson; vice-president and director, Kennington-Saenger Theatres, Jackson.


Mr. Kennington has led in fund-raising campaigns for almost every worthwhile project in the city. During World War I, his public services were on statewide and national levels as well as local. He served as state chairman of the Red Cross Campaign Fund, was State Merchants representative in Food Administration; served as Hinds County Food Administrator; was a member of the Hinds County Liberty Loan Committee, and district chairman of the Fourth Liberty Loan. During World War II, his elder son, Robert G. Kennington, performed similar services to the community, the state and the nation.


Now, having labored long and contentedly, Mr. Kennington is enjoying the fruits of his toil. With more leisure, and leaving the management of his business affairs largely in the capable hands of his splendid son, J.[John, but nicknamed Jack] A. Kennington, his other son, Robert G., having suffered a serious heart attack four years ago and upon advice of his physician retired from active participation in the business.


A man whose spirit of adventure never led him astray but was guided in all his pioneering and business dealing by the principles of honesty, tolerance and industry, Robert Estes Kennington is a Jackson leader of whom not only his fellow citizens may be well proud, but his nation as well. His influence upon the growth and progress of his adopted city is evident upon all sides and will be felt by the generations to com.


... Read further about Archie Ewing Gordon who married Robert Estes Kennington's daughter Marion about 1921.


Archie Ewing Gordin, M.D.


[page 390, The Story of Jackson]


Descended from pioneer Jackson families, Dr. Archie Ewing Gordin is an eminent surgeon whose ability is recognized by other medical men and surgeons throughout the country. Actively engaged in the practice of surgery in Jackson since 1920, he has made many valuable contributions to his profession and has added materially to the progress of the city through his civic activities as well.


Dr. Archie Ewing Gordin was born in Jackson on September 11, 1892, the son of James Archie and Frances (Ewing) Gordin. His father, James Archie Gordin, who was born at Vaiden, Carroll County, Mississippi, is a retired railroad man and real estate operator, now living in retirement at the age of ninety-one in Jackson. Frances (Ewing) Gordin, who died in 1946, was a member of one of the old pioneer families of Jackson. She was a woman who had a genuine affection and regard for humankind and especially for the unfortunate. She went about her acts of charity quietly, and her kindness, generosity and understanding had far-reaching effects on the lives of those she helped. The oldest circle of the King’s Daughters and Sons, an international philanthropic order, bears her name.


Archie Ewing Gordin was educated in the public schools of Jackson, Bingham Military School in Asheville, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of Virginia with the [an] M.D. Degree in 1915. His period of internship was spent as house surgeon at the University of Virginia, in the New York Lying-In Hospital and German Hospital in New York City. With the rank of First Lieutenant he served in the Medical Corps of the United States Army from 1917-1918 in World War I.


Following his period of army service, Doctor Gordin was on the surgical staffs of San Mateo Hospital, San Mateo, California. Returning to Jackson in 1920, he entered into general practice of surgery and for several years following was associate surgeon in operating the old Jackson Infirmary which later became St. Dominic’s Hospital. Since then he has continued in the general practice of surgery with offices at 121 North President Street. He is a member of the surgical staffs of both St. Dominic’s and Mississippi Baptist Hospital, has served as a member of the attending surgical staff of the Mississippi State Charity Hospital, and as a consulting surgeon, Mississippi State Tuberculosis Sanatorium. For the past twenty-five years he has been surgeon for the Mississippi Power and Light Company.


A close student of his profession, Doctor Gordin always has kept in touch with the trends and progress in medicine and surgery, attending clinics in various medical centers, reading and studying, and through his membership in the American Medical Association, the Southern Medical Association, the Southeastern Surgical Congress, the Mississippi State Medical Society, Central Medical Society and Tri-State Medical Society.


He was made a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons in 1924 and a Fellow in the International College of Surgeons in 1950. He is the author of numerous articles on surgery, a month them being: Pancreatic Cysts, published in Annals of Surgery; Bone Grafts, in Southern Surgical Journal; Fracture of the Spine, in American Journal of Surgery; Herniated Nucleus Pulposis, in Journal of Industrial Surgery; Surgical Treatment of Electrical Burns, Journal of Industrial Surgery; Plaster Casts and Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics (both of these papers being reprinted in the Year Book of Orthopedic Surgery); Surgery of Gallbladder, Journal of Medical Association; The Misuses of Caesarean Section, Mississippi State Medical Journal; Post-Operative Intestinal Obstruction, Journal of Central Medical Society; Local Anesthesia in Major Surgery, Journal of Central Medical Association, and many others.


As a college student, Doctor Gordin belonged to Alpha Tau Omega and Phi Rho Sigma Fraternities. He is also a member and past president of the Jackson Exchange Club, a member of the P.P.O.E. Elks; a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason and a Shriner; a member of the American Legion, the Executives Club and the Jackson Country Club. He is a Presbyterian.


In the midst of his busy and useful life, Doctor Gordin occasionally finds a leisure hour. He enjoys deep-sea fishing, horseback riding and a game of golf. He and his wife are fond of their friends and are known for their gracious hospitality.


Dr. Gordin first married [must be about 1921 just before his son was born] Miss Marian Kennington, daughter of R. E. Kennington [1875 - 1969], prominent Jackson merchant. Marion (Kennington) Gordin died in 1924, leaving one son, Robert Kennington Gordin [1922 - 1999], who was educated at Central High School, Gulfport Military Academy and was graduated from the University of Virginia with the Class of 1947, obtaining his B.A. degree. He served in World War II with the rank of captain, seeing active duty in the European Theatre with the 101st Paratroop Battalion, United States Army. He was wounded and subsequently was decorated with eh Purple Heart.


As a member of the United States Army Reserve Officers, Robert Kennington Gordin recently reentered the service and is now stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. His wife is the form Barbara Pitt of Charlottesville, Virginia. They are the parents of three children: Marian Kennington Gordin, Robert Kennington Gordin, Jr., and Elizabeth Ewing Gordin.


Doctor Gordin married for the second time on May 17, 1942. His wife is the former Margaret Gray of Gulfport, Mississippi, daughter of the late Andrew and Alice (Highlands) Gray. A graduate of Mississippi State College, Mrs. Archie Ewing Gordin is member of Ralph Humphreys Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Jackson country Club, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Central Medical Society, a member of the Board of Managers of the Old Ladies Home and a Presbyterian. She is particularly active in her work for the Old Ladies Home, give unstintingly of herself to make the twilight years of these aged women happy and contented ones. She frequently visits the Home, not only to attend the board meetings, but to pay persona calls on the ladies and to assist in the hospital ward. Her gentleness and kindness have greatly enriched the last years of these frail, aged women, and their faces reflect their joy in her presence. Mrs. Gordin has taken a prominent part in the civic and social life of the city, and during World War II, rendered outstand service the Red Cross and in bond-selling drives.


An attractive, energetic woman, possessing a fine mind and pleasing personality, Mrs. Gordin is a perfect complement to her busy and brilliant husband. Her skill in the management of both minor and major affairs greatly lightens the self-imposed burden her husband shoulders as he follows his heavy schedule. With her help, he free to fill the professional demands which claim a major portion of his time and keeps at peak the highly developed powers which have brought him to a point of leadership in his professional field.


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Taken sometime in 1930