Recently President Joe Biden spoke movingly about the 500,000 people that have been lost to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. He challenged us to reflect upon and mourn those lost to us. This is such a painful process I was reluctant to do it at first. Then finally, I decided to let myself remember just one such person, and for me it was Dr. Donald Kennedy, a Professor of Biology at Stanford University when I was a student there in the late 1960s. I remember him as lean, tall and athletic with a vigorous style of riding his bike to class on the Quad, careening between hurtling bicycles like a twenty- something! I recall his brilliant intellect as he helped to unravel the miraculous process of human development in Embryology Class. Outside of class, I remember his dry wit and insight from discussions around the conference table in Herrin Hall where the Stanford Population and Environment work group met regularly. I was allowed to audit these meetings as a lowly undergraduate because I was grinding up butterfly thoraces and studying their genetics for Dr. Paul Ehrlich and Dr. Holm in the lab next door. It was there I learned he believed strongly in a multi-disciplinary approach to undergraduate education, a point I was passionate about too. In those days double majors were rare and mine in Philosophy and Biology was downright weird. Nevertheless, when he asked, I volunteered my enthusiastic views on this point, and was excited to watch as the multidisciplinary Human Biology Major evolved out of the fertile imaginations of Dr. Kennedy and his colleagues. This idea has since become Stanford’s most popular undergraduate major. Right on, Dr. Kennedy!
Of course, Dr. Kennedy had much bigger fish to fry than the Human Biology Major. In addition to his many scientific contributions, Dr. Kennedy would ultimately serve as head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as the President of Stanford University, and made other contributions too numerous to list. I miss him, and thank him for the medical school recommendation he wrote for me, which I probably didn’t deserve then, and certainly haven’t lived up to. If you knew Dr. Kennedy though, you know he would not choose to elevate his loss over others. Instead, like President Biden, he would shed tears for the loss and suffering of each and every human being COVID has taken from us. He too would urge us to keep the faith, to exercise patience, and to protect those who remain.