Praise for a pediatric pioneer — Dr. Richard Kennedy

Published on April 17, 2014

Dr. Richard Kennedy, born in Harbour Main, passed away April 11, 2014 at the age of 88 years. he was an extraordinary man who made numerous contributions to pediatric surgery and child health over his medical career which lasted for 45 years; 37 were spent in Newfoundland.

After graduating from McGill University medical school in 1951, he spent eight years training to be a general surgeon, urologist and pediatric surgeon in Montreal and the U.K.  He was the first fully trained pediatric surgeon in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 In 1958, on a visit to St. John’s, he was told that the province didn’t need a pediatric surgeon by the senior surgeon in the city. He came anyway (by boat in January 1959) in the middle of a snowstorm.

He quickly made his mark as a distinguished surgeon, educator and clinician in St. John’s and, with the help of the Sisters of Mercy, particularly Sister St. Clair, he started a modern pediatric surgical service on 7 West at St. Clare’s Hospital. This service brought the surgical care of children into the 20th century in this province, equal or better than the care provided in academic centres in Canada.

Kennedy was very supportive of the establishment of a free standing children’s hospital, the Janeway Child Health Centre, that opened in August 1966.

As chief of surgery at the Janeway, he established a first-class tertiary case surgical service that provided state-of-the-art care. He was instrumental in recruiting pediatric, cardiac and general surgeons to the hospital that broadened the excellent care already provided.

Kennedy was an astute clinician who took meticulous care of his patients, before, during and after surgery. He expected his junior staff and nurses to do the same and he was quick to admonish them if they didn’t measure up.

He was very loyal to his patients and their families and they accepted his sometimes blunt approach and loved him as a surgeon and physician to their children. I meet adults today who are very proud of the fact that Dr. Kennedy operated on them as children.

Kennedy was an outstanding teacher in the operating room, at the bedside and as a lecturer. He was a clinical professor at Memorial University’s medical school.  He had very high standards for the surgical care of children and expected the same from residents, staff and students.

Many of his resident physicians have gone onto distinguished careers in surgery including three who have become chiefs of pediatric surgery in British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador. He was a founding member of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons.

Modern hospitals today have active programs to assess the quality of their care and Kennedy, from the beginning, ensured that active statistics were kept and that morbidity and mortality was discussed regularly in the monthly surgical meeting ensuring that the standard of surgical care was always up to date and appropriate. He was able to make significant improvements to the surgical service by his persistence and forceful personality.

Child health has come a long way in this province since 1950, and today the children of this province have a health care system that is modern, up to date and as good as or better than other centres in Canada.

Dr. Richard Kennedy, through his involvement with St. Clare’s and later the Janeway, made enormous contributions in the area of pediatric surgery, both as a skilled surgeon, a compassionate physician, a skilled administrator and an outstanding teacher.

To quote a colleague, “The children of this province will never know how much they owe Dr. Kennedy.”

That is his legacy.


A.R. Cooper, pediatrician

A.J. Davis, pediatrician

D.I. Price, pediatric surgeon

St. John’s