Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Charles Kennedy, MD


Written by: Harry T. Chugani, MD (Wilmington, DE) and Bennett Lavenstein, MD (Washington, DC)

Charles Kennedy, MD at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Charles Kennedy, MD at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Charles Kennedy, one of the first child neurologists in the USA, passed  away on October 6, 2015 in Maine at the age of 95 following a brief illness.  Born in Buffalo, NY, he attended Nichols School and later Deerfield Academy.  He graduated from Princeton University with honors in Chemistry in 1942.  At Princeton, in addition to preparing for medical school, he was also a member of the choir, glee club and the Princeton Nassoons (an all male a cappella group).  He went on to receive his MD degree at the University of Rochester while in the Navy V-12 program.  Internship was at Yale New Haven Hospital during which time World War II ended.  After the war, he remained on active duty in the Navy where he was assigned to the Veterans Administration Psychiatric  Hospital in Canandaigua, NY.  Following his 2 years of military service, he went through a pediatrics residency at the Childen’s Hospital of Buffalo.  Neurology and Child Neurology training was with Sidney Carter at the Neurological Institute in New York.  During this time, Kennedy and Carter published an article on optic neuritis in children and the risk for multiple sclerosis, a paper that spurned future research .  Following his fellowship, Charles was appointed Chief of Neurology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  

Kennedy had a very strong interest in the cerebral blood flow and metabolic requirements of the developing brain.  Very early in his career, he developed a close collaboration with Louis Sokoloff, also  a physician  scientist  who never practiced medicine except during internship at Philadelphia General Hospital.  As early as 1957, Kennedy et al. (J Clin Invest) used the Kety-Schmidt method (a modification of the Fick Principle) to show for the first time that children require higher cerebral blood flow and oxygen utilization than adults.  In 1967, Kennedy took a sabbatical at the Laboratory of Cerebral Metabolism at the NIH, working with Louis Sokoloff.  That sabbatical was a life changing event for Kennedy who decided not to return to his position in Philadelphia but to pursue his research collaboration with Sokoloff at the NIH.  He split his time between NIH and Georgetown University School of Medicine, where he was Professor and Chief of Child Neurology.  The following years were highly productive and scientifically rewarding.  Sokoloff and Kennedy became life-long friends and colleagues; they complemented each other with their skills.  A series of experiments investigated the use of various carbon-14 labeled radiotracers and quantitative autoradiography to measure cerebral blood flow.  In 1977, Sokoloff, Reivich , Kennedy and the group published the seminal  paper in Journal of Neurochemistry on the 14C-2-deoxyglucose method for the measurement of local cerebral glucose utilization in the rat brain.  This method has been widely used in various experimental paradigms in a number of species.  Importantly, the method provides the basis for the measurement of glucose metabolism in humans using positron emission tomography (PET), which is now routinely used in the clinical setting.

At Georgetown, Kennedy trained a number of child neurologists who went on to pursue academic careers, including Bennett Lavenstein, Harry Chugani, and Pauline Filippek.  He demonstrated great skill clinically.  Indeed, there are few who excel both in the clinic and in the laboratory.  One of us (HC), as a medical student at Georgetown, was so impressed by his clinical/research activities that I took an elective with Dr. Kennedy at NIH after which I decided to pursue a career in child neurology with a similar area of research. For all those who came in contact with Charles Kennedy he embodied the characteristics of  a physician scholar, gentleman, advisor, confidante and role model.

Charles maintained his humor even into his 90’s. He once said: “if you are my age, and you don’t have heart disease or cancer, I guess you just wait for organ failure!”  Kennedy is survived by his wife, Eulsum Kennedy, a talented sculptor and painter (of North Korean descent).  He joked about her as well by saying: “the reason I remain slim is that my wife has put me on a North Korean diet!”  Kennedy is also survived by his sister Florence Davidsen of Iowa City, and 3 children from a previous marriage: Allen Kennedy of NYC, Jacqueline MacMillan of Sommerville, Mass, and Carol Radmer of Valley Park, Mo, and 2 grandchildren. We will miss you Charles.

Lou Sokoloff (left) and Charles Kennedy (right) at the NIH
Lou Sokoloff (left) and Charles Kennedy (right) at the NIH