WILMINGTON — On Tuesday afternoon, August 9, 2022, Kenneth Rodman Purdy passed away peacefully of cancer. In his final days, he was surrounded by his family as he faced this challenge with courage, curiosity, humor, and gratitude for the compassion of the many caregivers who guided and supported his journey. Although the world lost a fine scholar and a gentleman, we’re privileged to celebrate the legacy of a man who was loved and respected as a husband, father, teacher, colleague, friend, and neighbor.
Ken was born on October 16, 1933, in New Rochelle, New York, the only child of Kenneth Oswald and Edna Miller Purdy. At the age of seven, his family relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they built a homestead on forty acres of palmetto and pine scrub. During his senior year at Palm Beach High School, Ken attracted the attention of a benefactor who sponsored his college education at the Georgia Institute of Technology. On a blind date near the end of his freshman year, Ken met Nancy Beam, a vibrant young woman who was destined to become his wife of sixty-eight years. She supported him as they pursued three degrees at Georgia Tech while raising two young children.
After completing his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering, Ken chose a career in academia and research as his life’s work. He taught at Purdue University for four years before accepting a full professorship at Tennessee Technological University, where he piloted its Ph.D. program in the College of Engineering. Throughout his teaching career, Ken influenced countless students as an advisor and mentor, and never ceased to be as proud of their accomplishments as he was of his own. He received the university’s Outstanding Faculty Award and the Engineering Faculty Award in recognition of his consummate teaching skills. Prior to his retirement, Ken also served as Associate Dean of Tennessee Tech’s College of Engineering, as Principal Research Engineer at Georgia Tech’s Engineering Experiment Station, and as Vice President of Engineering for American Carbons, Inc.
Retirement took Ken and Nancy to The Villages in Florida, where they were active charter members of their church and formed many friendships in their neighborhood, The Loop. They moved to the Wilmington area in 2010 primarily to be closer to family, but they also forged meaningful relationships with neighbors as well as members of their church family at Grace United Methodist Church.
As a child, Ken became an avid water lover and enjoyed all kinds of boating. He spent many happy weekends behind the wheel of his tri-hull, cruising with his family and waterskiing on Middle Tennessee’s Center Hill Lake. Ken also possessed a strong bass voice, which served him well whether he was instructing students, singing spirituals in the shower stall, or raising hymns from the choir loft. He leaves us with enduring memories of profound resonance in every sense of the word.
Ken’s survivors include his wife Nancy, daughter Linda Purdy Carter (Tom), and son Jeff Purdy (Lorelei Goodyear). He also had a special place in his heart for grandchildren Emily Carter Bradford (Brice), Will Carter (Yutong Liu), Miranda Purdy, and Lucinda Purdy, as well as great-granddaughters Grace Bradford and Lilah Bradford, and his faithful dog Eli.
In keeping with Ken and Nancy’s wishes, a joint memorial service will be held on Friday, October 14, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. in the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church (401 Grace Street, Wilmington, NC 28401). The family wishes to thank his primary care physician, Dr. J. Todd Kornegay, and caregivers from Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Home Instead. If you wish to remember your relationship with Ken, please consider a donation to Lower Cape Fear Life Care (1414 Physicians Drive, Wilmington, NC 28401) or to your local Hospice organization to support the important work they do.