The James G. Kenan Distinguished Professorships in English or history pay tribute to a man with the deepest of Carolina roots who built his own distinguished career as an attorney, private investor and philanthropist.

Family members established two $1 million James G. Kenan Distinguished Professorships in English or history in the College of Arts and Sciences that honor the 1932 Carolina graduate, who passed away in 1999. The first professorship was established by the Spray Foundation in Atlanta, governed primarily by three of Kenan’s children, James G. (Jim) Kenan III ’68 of Lexington, Ky.; Sarah Kenan Kennedy ’71 of Atlanta; and Clay Kenan Kirk ’64 of New York City. Jim Kenan established the second professorship in his father¹s name. The professorships qualified for the state match through the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund.

Both professorships were established to attract or retain a distinguished teacher and scholar in English or history as determined by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the time of appointment. They will support teachers and scholars specializing in European or American History or 19th and early 20th century English and American literature, which are areas of interest to James G. Kenan.

“We did this as a way to honor our father who has such strong feelings for Carolina,” said Jim Kenan, chairman of Kentucky River Coal Corporation, in Lexington, Ky. “The professorships in English or history reflect his interests related to the liberal arts at Carolina.”

After graduating from Carolina, the senior Kenan attended Harvard Law School and graduated from Emory University Law School in Atlanta. He served in the U.S. Navy from December 1941 until January 1946, joining as an ensign and being discharged as a lieutenant commander. He saw service in England, France and Germany, as well as in the convoy office in New York.

During his 45-year career, he worked in New York in the investment business and returned to his home in Atlanta to manage Olympia Investment Corporation, which was founded by his grandfather, Frank Hawkins. Kenan served on numerous boards, including the advisory committee of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, and on the board of the Sarah Graham Kenan Foundation. He was also vice chairman and director of Flagler System, director of Atlanta Speech School, trustee of Episcopal High School in Virginia, and served on the board of visitors of Emory University. Kenan served on the vestry of All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta.

While his list of professional accomplishments is extensive, he supported Carolina in less obvious ways, from helping former General Alumni Association Director Maryon “Spike” Saunders determine the health status of the oldest living Carolina alumnus (also a resident of Atlanta) to helping fund the 1992 University history Light on the Hill by William Snider.

The Kenan family’s history can be traced to the University’s beginnings. Seven successive generations of Kenan family members have attended Carolina. Gen. James Kenan (1740-1810), a Revolutionary War hero and James G. Kenan’s great-great-great grandfather, was one of the first trustees of the University. Among the most recent Kenan family members to graduate from Carolina is James G. Kenan’s granddaughter Elizabeth “Boo” Kenan ’99.

The James Graham Kenan Distinguished Professorship in History

2005 – Present:  Karen Hagemann

The James Graham Kenan Distinguished Professorship in English

2000 – Present:  Joseph S. Viscomi