Richard Kinder attended the University of Missouri, where he first earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History, and then a Juris Doctor Degree in 1968. After his four-year deferment ended, he received a draft notice, and realized that he had two options. He had completed ROTC, and could have become a Military Police Officer, or he could finish his law degree and become a JAG Officer. Even though the JAG option carried a four-year commitment, instead of the two years required as an MP, he chose to become a lawyer, and, after the basic course at the University of Virginia, was assigned to Fort Hamilton, New York. While at Fort Hamilton, one of his assignments was conducting casualty notifications. After a year in New York, he was selected for duty in Vietnam, and in December, 1969, he deployed to a base outside of Saigon. He was responsible for an area from Da Nang to the Mekong Delta, traveling extensively from base to base via helicopter. After a year in Vietnam, he returned to the States, and was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he finished his time in the military. Leaving the service, he entered private practice before joining the Florida Gas Transmission energy company, which later became Enron. He rose through the ranks in Enron, eventually becoming the COO, before leaving the company in 1996 to start Kinder Morgan. Currently, he is the head of the Kinder Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports education, green spaces, and quality of life programs.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his college experiences, his time in the military, and his career in business. He explains his decision to major in history in college, reflects on becoming a lawyer, and discusses the value of a college education. He describes his decision to enter the military through the JAG Corps and his time at Fort Hamilton, telling the story of one particularly difficult notification that has remained with him for nearly 50 years. He discusses his deployment to Vietnam and his duties there, which included trying three basic types of cases: drug offenses, crimes against Vietnamese civilians, and violence within American units. He views the American military as a leader in integration, and highlights the military legal system as a fair and impartial one. He discusses his business career, and explains how his military experience contributed to his success in corporate America. Finally, he talks about his philanthropy, and explains his priorities for charitable giving.