by Henry Lane Hull
Today the Northern Neck is celebrating the ascendency of Bob McKenney to the nonagenarian plateau. Bob is one of the great living repositories of the history of the Northern Neck, which he has continued to study from childhood down to the present.
Bob is a native of White Stone who spent his career teaching in Northern Virginia prior to returning with his late wife, Jean Norris Booth McKenney, who was two days his senior, to live in her family home on Main Street in Reedville. That house overlooking Cockrell Creek, which they renovated extensively, formerly had been the home of the village barbershop. After their sojourn in Reedville they moved to the suburbs of metropolitan Kilmarnock, where he presently continues to reside.
As an academic, Bob’s field has been the broad course of American history, which he and Jean Norris, who died eight years ago, spent their careers teaching at the high school level in the Fairfax County School System. After retirement from the classroom his focus has been local history, concentrating on the highly significant past of both Lancaster and Northumberland counties.
With the late Preston Haynie of Wicomico Church, another retired history teacher from the Northern Neck, who served for many years as the editor of “The Northumberland County Historical Society Magazine,” he undertook prodigious research into the circumstances of the birth of Mary Ball, reaching the controversial conclusion that she was born in Morattico, rather than at Epping Forest. Documentation is critically important to Bob and when he speaks, he has the backing of years of study and thinking on the subject at hand.
Bob’s avocation is the study of antiques, where his scholarly abilities shine equally with his academic ones. In the realm of antiquities, as well as history, he is a genuine resource when one speaks of china and glassware, always willing to share his wealth of information with interested listeners. He is a frequent patron of local shops and estate sales where he enjoys finding the right object for the right place in his home, not to mention also at the right price. He maintains a large library of books available at his behest to provide ready source material for pieces of interest.
Always trim, Bob keeps in extraordinarily good shape by pedaling his bike around the neighborhood. Cycling is a big part of his lifestyle, and he is well known to passersby getting his daily exercise along the Northern Neck’s only VDOT designated bike lane between Kilmarnock and Irvington.
Perhaps this activity of his might spark the powers that be to move in the direction of designating and establishing other bikeways across the region to accommodate the needs of natives and visitors alike. If that prospect transpires, the present bike lane should be designated “The Robert Neil McKenney Bikeway” for that stretch is truly his.
Despite his years, Bob remains at the proverbial peak of youth. His life has been one of contributing to and enhancing the knowledge of others. He was a born teacher, gifted with the ability to communicate complex ideas and events to his students as well as to the broader population at large through his writings, which are both eloquent and direct. In that vein his time in the Northern Neck has been spent productively and effectively.
Happy Birthday, Bob! Ad multos annos! Thanks for all the good you have done for our community.