Clifton Hennessee Kearney Sr., 94, of Poughkeepsie, died April 28, 2019, while visiting his daughter in New York City.
Clifton was born on his family farm in Warrenton, North Carolina, on Jan. 27, 1925, the eldest of five children of Clarence and Mildred “Portia” (Green) Kearney.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning two Bronze stars. In returned to Warrenton in 1946, then left the Jim Crow South to become the first person in his family to pursue higher education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. On his first day of class, he put on his one good suit.
To help with expenses, he worked at a gas station and, during the summers, helped his father pick tobacco. One summer, he traveled to Buffalo to work at the post office while living with a cousin who had just moved there.
Clifton graduated from Howard in 1952 with a degree in electrical engineering. His classmate and friend, Harry Cochrane, who was from Beacon and became the first African-American engineer hired by IBM in Poughkeepsie. Cochrane attempted to persuade Clifton to come to Poughkeepsie but instead married a fellow Howard student, Louise Hill Kearney on April 4, 1953 and secured a job with the federal government.
A couple of years later, intrigued about the new technical projects at IBM and wanting to provide a better quality of life for his family, Clifton picked up stakes with his wife and infant son and moved to Poughkeepsie, becoming the second African-American electrical engineer hired by IBM, where he worked on the System/360 computer.
In the mid-1960s, Clifton and Harry Cochrane founded a Hudson Valley chapter of the Howard University Alumni Association, and Clifton was voted its first president and later chairman of the region and national president from 1980-82. After 30 years at IBM, Clifton became the first director and coordinator of transfer students in the School of Engineering at Morgan State University. He retired from the school after 31 years.
Louise Kearney, who was a teacher at Poughkeepsie Middle School, died in 2011. Clifton is survived by his son, Clifton Kearney Jr. and a daughter, Terri Kearney, as well as his youngest sister, Mildred McCullough, three granddaughters (Naima, Aisha and Amina Kearney) and three great grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 11, at the Springfield Baptist Church, 8 Mattie Cooper Square, in Beacon, with interment to follow at Fishkill Rural Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to the Clifton H. and Louise H. Kearney Sr. Memorial Fund for Stem Education c/o Terri L. Kearney, Manhattanville Station, P.O. Box 3426, New York, NY 10027.
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