Shmirshky Honors Dr. Joseph Kennedy
Dr. Joseph Francis Kennedy and his surviving wife, Geri Ann Warnke
Sometimes you find yourself down and feeling hopeless. Then, in a rare moment, someone suddenly enters your life and holds out their hand to help lift you out of your troubled situation and to a place of happiness and fulfillment. They help you find the support you need to feel better, physically or emotionally, and sometimes both.
This is what Dr. Joe Kennedy did for me. Although my heart is heavy, it is with great respect that I introduce you to Dr. Joseph Francis Kennedy.
Joe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several years ago. With the encouragement and support from his unique and loving wife, Geri, he fought the battle with his disease with grace, a smile and an unending dedication to making sure that whatever days he had left in his life were full of love, fun, and most importantly, caring for others.
Joe was born in Brooklyn, NY, the youngest of 16 children. He graduated cum laude from St. John’s University. In 1965 he entered the Navy, serving two years as Chief of OB at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. He did his residency at John Hopkins in OB-GYN and returned there for an endocrinology fellowship in the School of Medicine as well as the School of Hygiene and Public Health in Reproductive Biology. He published his first scientific paper in 1969 in the prestigious peer reviewed journal, Science, on oocytes (immature ovum, or egg cells). He was an attending staff member of Hopkins as an OB-GYN while also being on the faculty of the School of Medicine. Subsequently, he moved to UCSD School of Medicine and resumed his early human oocyte research with a five-year Ford Foundation grant as well as two NIH grants. In 1974 he co-founded the IGO Medical Group with two fellow faculty members. IGO went on to establish an independent and free-standing IVF program that resulted in the first IVF pregnancy in San Diego. Joe retired in 1995 from clinical practice and joined the Medical Board of California as a district medical consultant. Joe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; however, from Joe’s physical appearance, clarity of thinking and good humor, no one would ever have believed that Joe was so ill. He worked up until he could no longer, retiring just before his death. He was a life force.
Joe and the love of his life, Geri, were quite the couple. My husband and I met them through a mutual love for the La Jolla Playhouse (Geri is a past president of the Playhouse) and through mutually loved and dear friends. In addition to being involved in the community through his generous philanthropic dollars, he was an extraordinary philanthropist of the brain.
Philanthropy of the brain – what is it? How do you donate, you might ask? Here’s how it happened:
Having just finished an amazing dinner at Geri and Joe’s house a few years ago, I pushed my chair away from the table, loaded my hands with dirty dishes, and found my way to the kitchen. Joe was in the kitchen preparing to share his phenomenal homemade Lemoncello with his guests. Suddenly, it happened – uncontrollable tears came pouring down my face. It was quite obvious that these were not tears of joy in anticipation of his prize winning Lemoncello. However, it must also have been clear that I could have used a shot or two of this amazing liqueur.
“Ellen, are you ok? “ Joe asked. Although the flood of tears was blinding my view, I was always astounded by Joe’s looks. He looked like he came from Central Casting – so handsome, so full of life – his full head of white hair sitting atop of his slightly ruddy Irish face. Quickly, I began pouring my heart out to Joe completely forgetting the fact that I was talking to a man who was battling pancreatic cancer and might have more pressing matters on his mind. My emphatic response was, “No, nothing about me is OK. I feel like an alien has taken over my body and my mind and I can’t seem to find someone to help me.”
After rattling off all of my symptoms, Joe compassionately came and looked me right in my mascara-blackened eyes and cheerfully said, “I have the perfect menopause specialist for you! You do not need to suffer like this!”
Months later, I made a lunch date with Joe to thank him for completely turning my life around. I told him that I was going to write a book about perimenopause and menopause. I wanted my daughter and all women to be prepared and educated for this stage in their lives. I felt like I had suffered needlessly, and that thanks to him, I found the help I needed and deserved.
With a smile and excitement, Joe replied, “Go for it. Do it. I will help you whatever way I can.”
Although our periodic lunches never involved Lemoncello :<(, Joe, while battling pancreatic cancer, began his philanthropy of his brain. He donated to the shmirshky movement every chance he could – every time he thought of a study or read something that would help me help women get the help and information they deserve about perimenopause and menopause. He reviewed and commented on everything I wrote. His support, passion and selflessly sincere concern for women were preeminent and unquestionable.
Today, Thursday, Feb 2 at 4PM, I will be attending the memorial service for Dr. Joseph Kennedy in La Jolla. I hope you will join me in a moment of silence at 4PM PST in honor of this great man and beautiful person.
Thank you, Joe. I shall always remember your generosity and incredible philanthropy of your beautiful brain and spirit! You continue to inspire me and the product of your generous philanthropy continues to bring hope and answers to women everywhere.
Your wisdom and passion for helping women will always fill my heart with inspiration and gratitude.