Stanford University President Emeritus Donald Kennedy, who led the way for massive fundraising efforts and improvements in undergraduate education, has died from COVID-19, his wife, Robin Kennedy, said Tuesday.
Kennedy, 88, who experienced a stroke in 2015, died on Tuesday morning, April 21, at Gordon Manor, a residential care home in Redwood City, where he lived for the past two years. The residential care home has had at least two deaths due to the coronavirus, according to news reports. A team from the San Mateo County Health Department is assisting Gordon Manor to ensure safety measures are in place and that the facility is in compliance with the county's April 15 health order for residential care facilities, according to a statement by the city of Redwood City.
In an April 21 email announcing his death, Kennedy's wife praised his care at Gordon Manor and addressed his illness.
"After a week with no fever, he took a turn for the worst on Saturday night. All measures were taken to ensure he did not suffer. He was peaceful and comfortable during his final days. Many in our family were able to say goodbye to him via FaceTime on Sunday night," she said.
Kennedy was born in New York City on Aug. 18, 1931, and attended Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor's degree (1952), a master's degree (1954) and a doctorate (1956). A neurobiologist, his scholarly research centered on the properties of small nerve cells. He pioneered a new technique of dye injection into single nerve cells so that specialized cell parts — the whole axon, dendrite and cell body of the cell — can be seen in the light of the microscope.
He taught biology at Syracuse University in upstate New York until 1960, then joined Stanford. He was known as an inspiring and dedicated teacher in both biological sciences and in the Program in Human Biology, an interdisciplinary program that he helped establish and directed from 1973 to 1977.
Kennedy also was known for his unconventional teaching style.
"I will never forget Donald Kennedy getting up on the lab table at the front of the lecture hall and assuming a quadruped position to demonstrate to us the concepts of dorsal, ventral, cephalo and caudal. His first concern was always with teaching effectively, not preserving his dignity," Ingrid Schwontes Jackoway, a 1979 graduate, said in "The Program in Human Biology at Stanford: The First 30 Years, 1971-2001."
In 1977, he took a leave of absence from Stanford to become commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under President Jimmy Carter. He later told an interviewer that "the opportunity to serve government is one that scientists should come to regard as a routine part of their career patterns, just as many academic lawyers, political scientists and economists do."
At the FDA, he inherited challenges, such as the banning of saccharin, the alleged cancer cure Laetrile, risks associated with antibiotics in animal feeds, alcoholic beverage labeling and chronic complaints that the approval process for new drugs either allowed dangerous drugs into the market or impaired innovation. Kennedy worked to remedy those issues, raising the FDA's reputation as an independent agency that was not controlled by industry and he improved morale, the New York Times said in 1979 when he returned to Stanford to become provost.
In 1980, Kennedy became the university's eighth president, succeeding Richard W. Lyman. As president, he focused on improving the quality of undergraduate education. He opened the Stanford Humanities Center, expanded interdisciplinary studies and added overseas campuses in Kyoto, Japan, and Oxford, England.
He also started the Institute for International Studies, the Haas Public Service Center and the Bing Stanford in Washington, which gives undergraduates the opportunity to live, study and work as interns with government agencies and nonprofit organizations in Washington, D.C.
He oversaw the campus' rebuilding after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which caused $160 million of damage to 26 buildings. He also faced a high-profile controversy with the federal government over reimbursement for the indirect costs of research in the Stanford Indirect Costs Controversy. The case was settled out of court but Kennedy resigned in 1992, according to news reports.
Kennedy also faced campus sit-ins in 1985 during the South African divestment movement. Hundreds of students took part in sit-ins outside his office to pressure the university to divest itself of stock in companies doing business with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Stanford decided that "the moral position" was to divest from specific companies that supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, Kennedy said.
There were lighter moments. In 1983 he escorted the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II on a campus tour. An avid runner, Kennedy was often seen running the Dish. He gave an open invitation to students to join him and tell him what was on their minds. He enjoyed trout fishing, skiing and birding, an interest reflected in the 2009 book he co-authored with artist Darryl Wheye, called "Humans, Nature and Birds: Science Art from Cave Walls to Computer Science."
He also led the Stanford Centennial Campaign, which raised nearly $1.3 billion and provided funding for new equipment, new buildings and expanded financial aid. At the time, it was the largest sum raised in higher education.
Kennedy stepped down as president in 1992, returning to teaching and focusing on the environment and public policy. In 1997, Harvard University Press published Kennedy's book, "Academic Duty," a discussion of challenges facing American higher education.
In 2000, Kennedy became editor-in-chief of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, through 2008.
In an essay introducing readers to Kennedy, Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich called him "one of the broadest, warmest, most talented and most literate scientists ever to grace our business."
Kennedy wrote that he most enjoyed oversight of the weekly editorial page.
"In my nearly eight years at the helm, I had the opportunity to express my views on more than a hundred occasions, writing opinion pieces on such areas of science and policy as dual-use (science can be deployed for good or evil), government secrecy, bioengineering, stem cell research, and climate change that I continue to find most compelling and in need of attention. On occasion I would inject a bit of humor, allowing me to flex my creative muscle," he wrote in his 2018 memoir, "A Place in the Sun."
Kennedy returned to Stanford in 2008 and resumed teaching undergraduates. He also taught master's students enrolled in the Graduate School of Business.
He was also active on a wide variety of boards, nonprofit organizations, foundations and scientific advisory boards, including the national advisory board of the Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, and the board of directors of QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto that connects the nation's brightest students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education and further opportunities. He served as scientific adviser to the PBS NewsHour, and as co-chair of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Kennedy also served on the board of directors of Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation.
From January 2005 to June 2013, he served as a trustee of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which works with partners around the world for social, cultural and environmental change designed to improve the lives of children, families and communities.
He also received many awards and honors. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the National Commission for Public Service and the American Philosophical Society. In 2010, he received Wonderfest's Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.
At the time of his death, Kennedy was also the Bing Professor for Environmental Science, Emeritus, and senior fellow, emeritus, of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
"I can't imagine anyone whose life was more a blessing than was Don's, for his family, his friends, his students, his colleagues and all of humankind," his wife said in her email.
At the end of each of his farewell speech to the graduates at Stanford's commencement, Kennedy would read his favorite quotation from former Illinois Gov. and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, she recalled.
"Your days are short here; this is the last of your springs. And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place, touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven. You will go away with old, good friends. And don't forget when you leave, why you came."
Kennedy is survived by his wife, Robin Kennedy, of Menlo Park; children Page Kennedy Rochon, of Washington, D.C.; Julia Kennedy Tussing, of Menlo Park; Cameron Kennedy, of Washington, D.C.; Jamie Hamill, of Las Vegas, Nevada; their spouses Mark Rochon, Ted Tussing, Rick Desimone and Rosario Hamill; and nine grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be announced by the family and Stanford University when family, friends and members of the Stanford family can safely congregate.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Stanford Hillel, the Haas Center for Public Service or the Robin and Donald Kennedy Fund for Jewish Studies.