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Field Exchange salutes John Kevany

co-director of the ENN, who died unexpectedly on Easter Sunday this year.

John was instrumental in the search for an institutional location and funding for the ENN. Based in the Dept. of Community Health and General Practice, Professor John Kevany immediately recognised the need for the ENN and set about convincing others in the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trinity College Dublin that this was an initiative worthy of support. Both institutions took his advice so that the ENN was established in the Dept. of Community Health and General Practice,TCD with core funding from the Dept. of Foreign Affairs. John's involvement in the ENN did not end there. He became one of the three ENN Directors and was an invaluable source of advice, support and encouragement for all ENN activities.

John's ability to catalyse initiatives was evident throughout his professional life. He was full of ideas and could think his way around most challenges. John was a facilitator who shared knowledge and experience willingly.

John Kevany began to take a particular interest in malnutrition in developing countries soon after qualifying in medicine in the mid-1950's. He started work with Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO the regional office of WHO for the Americas) as an advisor in nutrition through the 1960's. This interest - itself stimulated by Abraham Horwitz, his long time friend and director of PAHO - continued on his return to Dublin to take up his academic career in Trinity College. It then led to his many contributions to World Bank projects in this area, first based full time in Washington in 1984-86, then as a frequent contributor to programme development. In 1988 Dr Horwitz appointed John Chair of the United nations Advisory Group on Nutrition, where he continued to press for effective action that helped people - and showing a renowned impatience with abstract discussion. In this role he provided a sure touch in nudging the conglomerate of international agencies towards actually achieving some improvement in the lives and welfare of poor people, especially women and children.

As the central force of the MSc in Community Health, he inspired interest and application from those with overseas international health interests. Many former students currently involved in overseas work benefited from his tenure in the Department of Community Health and General Practice. In the department, John represented the very best of academic tradition by prioritising the search for knowledge and at the same time catering for the needs of students. His admirable qualities were continually on display in his willingness to share and build on a huge base of knowledge and experience, his accessibility, and his willingness at all times to motivate, to help and to support.

John was the true mentor - he infected his students with his own enthusiasm for public health and justice. That influence lives on within the Department of Community Health and General Practice and in the work of many organisations in Ireland and overseas where graduates of the Department are now placed. It has percolated into the policies and programmes of the Health Boards in Ireland, Pavee Point, the Emergency Nutrition Network, Oxfam, Ireland Aid, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and many other organisations.

When John retired from TCD he continued as one of the ENN Directors. He also became more involved in working on HIV and AIDS for Ireland Aid. Over the last five years he was hugely influential in helping to shape the Irish Government's policies in the field of public health and HIV/AIDS and in determining Irish Government priorities for investing in health needs of developing countries.

His life was characterised by a profound understanding of the multiple causes of ill health and a huge commitment to bringing about the changes necessary to redress these. In 1996, in an article in the British Medical Journal, he wrote "The world's biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe is extreme poverty. The effects of poverty on health are never more clearly expressed than in poor communities of the developing world. The scale and persistence of these problems is a blunt reminder of an international obligation ignored."

These words perhaps give us some insight into the extent of John's commitment to the cause of international health. This is further reflected in a lifetime spent in Ireland, in Africa, in South America and in Asia and working with like minded colleagues in Trinity College, in the World Bank and in the Pan American Health Organisation.

The essence of all John's qualities is perhaps best captured in a single word - integrity.

John was a dedicated family man and will be missed most of all by his wife Rose, daughters Sophie Seana and Sabrina, his son Sebastian and step-son Peter.

This tribute to John Kevany draws on the reflections and memories of a few of John's close professional colleagues (Dr V.O'Neill, Dr. J Mason, F O'Reilly and J Shoham) during a long and illustrious career.

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Reference this page

Field Exchange salutes John Kevany. Field Exchange 19, July 2003. p1. www.ennonline.net/fex/19/kevany