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Margaret E. Kirkland

June 22, 1960 — October 24, 2023

Margaret Elizabeth “Bettie” Kirkland passed away on October 24, 2023. She is survived by her beloved husband, Paul Wilson Speer, their cherished children, Joseph Wilson Speer and Clare Elizabeth Speer, her mother Margaret Jean Kirkland, her brother Robert K. Kirkland (Pam), her cousin, many in-laws, nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her father, Robert G. Kirkland.


She was born June 22, 1960 to Robert Greene and Margaret Jean Kirkland of Liberty, Missouri. Bettie graduated from Liberty High School in 1978 and left home to attend Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. At Baker, she majored in English and political science, was president of her sorority Alpha Chi Omega, and met the love of her life.


Bettie and Paul graduated from Baker in 1982 and married shortly thereafter. In 1984, they became US Peace Corps Volunteers, and served together in community development work, school teaching, and subsistence farming on “the weathercoast” of the island of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.


In 1987 they returned to the US to embark on their respective graduate studies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Bettie attained her law degree and admission to the Missouri Bar in 1990, and began her legal career as an associate at the law firm then known as Stinson Mag & Fizzell (now Stinson); her primary focus was environmental law.


Shortly after the birth of their first child, Bettie left the practice of law to become a full-time stay-at-home parent. The familyresided for 10 years in Highland Park, NJ, before moving to Nashville, TN in 2001. Bettie transitioned from community volunteer work when she was hired as a researcher, writer, and program creator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University. Subsequently she was selected to lead the First Response Center, a nonprofit organization focused on HIV/AIDS and substance use in the North Nashville community, the mission focus of Nashville's Metropolitan Interdenominational Church.


In 2011, Bettie was chosen to direct Project Return, an organization dedicated to the successful new beginnings of people returning to the community after incarceration, and she served as CEO until stepping down in the fall of 2022. Project Return enjoyed great growth, success, and recognition during Bettie's tenure - all of which was centered on their fierce belief in and commitment to the worth and dignity of all people.


Bettie infinitely loved and admired her son and daughter. Both Joe and Clare graduated from University School of Nashville and from Macalester College of St Paul, MN. Clare graduated from the University of Michigan with an MS degree in computer science and Joe received his MPA from New York University.


Bettie enjoyed hiking, tennis, knitting, puzzles, and board games. She was a devoted dog mom to her family’s beloved cairn terrier for 15 years. Across the incredibly rewarding variety of all of her work, Bettie considered the luxury and joy of her time with her kids in their first decade of life to be her most treasured pursuit. Bettie’s family is proud of her contributions to the people of Nashville and beyond, grateful to have had her as a wife and mother, and they will miss her dearly.


Bettie held the deepest gratitude to the many, many wonderful people - across all walks of life and including those who faced down nearly insurmountable odds - whose fond encouragement, smart advice, genuine friendship, and abiding love enriched her life far beyond what words or measure can express.


Visitation will be Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023 at 2:00 pm at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, followed by a Celebration of Life at 3:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to Project Return, Inc. or Metropolitan Interdenominational Church First Response Center.


Please keep the Kirkland and Speer families in your thoughts and prayers.

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