Cover photo for Ross  Erwin Mckinney's Obituary
Ross  Erwin Mckinney Profile Photo
1926 Ross 2021

Ross Erwin Mckinney

August 2, 1926 — September 18, 2021

Ross Erwin McKinney, Sr. of Chapel Hill, NC passed away on Saturday, September 18, 2022, at the age of 95. 

Ross was born in San Antonio, Texas on August 2, 1926 to Roy Earl McKinney and Beatrice Vivian McKinney. Ross enlisted in the Navy during World War II and earned his college degree through GI grants, graduating from Southern Methodist University. He then earned his ScD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spent one year working in Texas, then returned to MIT to join the faculty. He and the family moved to Lawrence, Kansas to begin work at the University of Kansas (KU) in 1960.  He never expected to stay his entire career at KU, but he found a special place both for his work and his family in Lawrence.


Ross McKinney served on the faculty at KU from 1960 until retirement in 1993. He founded and led the graduate program in environmental engineering and held the first N.T. Veatch Distinguished Professorship of Civil Engineering.  A member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, Ross garnered international acclaim for his ground-breaking research on microbiology of wastewater treatment. In 1992, he was recognized for his career contributions to KU when he was awarded the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award.  The KU School of Engineering awarded him the Distinguished Engineering Service Award in 2016.

He was a passionate teacher.  He oversaw more than 150 theses for graduate degrees in Environmental Engineering.  He was one of the first Americans invited to the People’s Republic of China in 1979 and made 5 trips to teach at Tong Ji University in Shanghai over the next 10 years.


While his work took him all over the world, he was better known to family members for leading month-long vacations in the family station wagon to many national parks and monuments (and, occasionally, sewage treatment plants). His love of sports, especially his beloved Jayhawk basketball team, passion for photography and remarkable curiosity will live on through those who loved him most. 

Ross was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Margaret Curtis McKinney, his parents, and brothers, Roy Earl McKinney, Jr. and Walter Sims McKinney. He is survived by his children, Ross Erwin McKinney, Jr. (Holly), Margaret McKinney-Kane, William Saylors McKinney (Laura), and Susanne Curtis McKinney, six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. 


The McKinney family thank the Carol Woods and Helping Hand staff for the care and attention they provided Ross in his final years.

People wishing to honor Ross’s commitment to Environmental Engineering education can make donations to his endowed professorship at KU (Ross E McKinney professorship). Contact information:


Or mail to:

ATTN: Gift Processing

KU Endowment

P.O. Box 928


Lawrence KS 66044-9950

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