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Message on Virgil Vincent McKenna Jr.

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community Aug. 29, 2017 - Ed.

Dear colleagues,

I write to share the news that Virgil Vincent McKenna Jr., Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, passed away on August 2 after a brief illness.  Professor McKenna received his undergraduate degree from William & Mary in 1957, his M.A. from Swarthmore College in 1959, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1967.  He began his teaching career at Carleton College, followed by Princeton University before his return to William & Mary in 1962. 

He was a popular lecturer, receiving the Student Association Faculty Award in 1968, and he was selected Parents’ Day Lecturer in 1969.  In addition to his teaching career, Professor McKenna was an active researcher and author and achieved many academic honors for his work.  He conducted research in a variety of areas associated with psychological development and perception, including work for NASA, the Center for Population Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services.  He presented many papers before academic associations, and earned the R.A Griffith Award from the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology for the outstanding paper presented in 1969.  He co-authored Introductory Psychology: Readings for Discussion (1980).

Professor McKenna had a lifelong love of dogs and horses.  He was a hot walker of polo ponies as a youth in Westbury and spent a summer as an assistant to a thoroughbred trainer.  To his great delight, he won a drawing to be “Owner for a Day” of a thoroughbred at Colonial Downs. He was a great fan of wire haired fox terriers, and owned several, most recently, Zel.

His other great love was the College of William & Mary.  He followed Tribe sports teams, any news about the College and never failed to have a considered opinion on any matter, major or trivial that related to his beloved alma mater.  He spoke with equal fondness of the “good old days” at the College, including his first office, in the basement of the Wren Building, and of the College’s most recent accomplishments.

Professor McKenna was born in Mineola, N.Y., and grew up in Westbury, Long Island, N.Y.  He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Willafay Hopkins McKenna of Williamsburg; son, Quinn McKenna (Mary) of Burlingame, Calif.; daughter, Elizabeth McKenna (Dena) of Williamsburg; and one granddaughter, Lila McKenna.  A celebration of his life is being scheduled.  Please send a message to to receive scheduling information.