Respected oncology researcher, U prof dies of cancer at 81

Lee Billings

Dr. B.J. Kennedy, a distinguished cancer researcher, caregiver and retired University Regents’ professor, died April 6 in his Minneapolis home from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. He was 81.

Regarded as the father of medical oncology, Kennedy also developed therapies for breast cancer, raised national awareness of chemotherapeutic treatment for brain tumors and proved that advanced testicular cancer could be cured.

Kennedy laid out the fundamentals of medical oncology as committee chairman of the American Board of Internal Medicine, which designed the specialty of medical oncology and determined the training involved, Dr. Bruce Peterson said. A former student and colleague of Kennedy’s, Peterson is a University professor and oncologist.

“Anyone that is treated for cancer should feel grateful for him,” Peterson said, adding that Kennedy was first and foremost a physician who “took care of a lot of people and took care of them well.”

Cancer patients are not the only ones indebted to Kennedy’s legacy. He also directly trained many of today’s leading oncologists, who direct programs at schools such as Ohio State University and the University of Chicago.

A 1945 graduate of the University’s Medical School, Kennedy joined the faculty in 1952, beginning his more than 40 years of teaching, treatment and research in Minnesota. From 1968 until 1991 when he retired, Kennedy directed the University medical school’s Division of Medical Oncology, which he also founded.

Kennedy’s University contributions also include collaborations with the Masons to fund the construction of the Masonic Cancer Hos-pital in 1958 and the Masonic Can-cer Research Center in the 1990s.

Later in life, Kennedy raised awareness of the special needs of elderly people with cancer, chairing another committee that developed a curriculum in geriatric oncology.

“Years ago, he used to quip that when he’d done all he needed to cure cancer, he would turn his attention to geriatric (oncology), because we would always have old people,” Peterson said.

Lee Billings covers faculty and staff affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]