Dr. Norman M. Kenyon, ‘a Maestro in the Operating Theater,’ Remembered

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Norman M. Kenyon, M.D., a gifted surgeon, mentor, leader, and communicator, who was president of the University of Miami’s first class of graduating medical students, passed away last week. He was 90.

The father of Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D., the University’s vice provost for innovation and the Miller School of Medicine’s chief innovation officer, the elder Dr. Kenyon was intensely proud of his ties to the University, which began in 1952 when Florida’s first medical school accepted him into its inaugural class of 28 — from a pool of 350 applicants.

Already inducted in the Iron Arrow Honor Society, Dr. Norman M. Kenyon was on hand when his daughter, Norma, was tapped for one of the University's highest honors in 2013.

“His passion for medicine was extraordinary. He loved it, and the U,” said Norma Kenyon, who only recently learned how her father found his calling. “He heard about the new medical school in Miami, decided to apply, got in, and the rest is history.”

Four years later, Norman Kenyon graduated with the Class of 1956 in what would become the Miller School of Medicine. The very next day he married Sue Underwood, his wife for nearly 64 years. Soon after, he began his five-year surgical residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Sue worked as a nurse and all three of their daughters were born.

It was also at Jackson where Dr. Kenyon first dabbled in research, an interest he would return to in his “retirement” four decades later, when he began volunteering in his oldest daughter’s lab at the medical school’s Diabetes Research Institute on her pioneering research. By testing new drugs and transplant sites, he helped her team develop multiple new approaches to islet cell transplants for people with type I diabetes and was an author on several publications.

His other daughters, Cynthia Kenyon Drake, an exercise physiologist, and Pamela Kenyon, a physician assistant, also work in the medical field. Pamela worked with her father in his practice for seven years.

After serving two years as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Dr. Kenyon embarked on a distinguished independent career in private practice, working at seven different hospitals, where he assumed numerous leadership roles, and forged his reputation as a uniquely skilled but unassuming surgeon, mentor, and communicator. An avid fisherman and tennis player, he leaves a trail of admirers in his quiet wake.

“Norm’s patients adored him,” said Arthur Gilbert, M.D., who was a year behind Dr. Kenyon in medical school and served as a surgical resident at Jackson with him. “His easy-yet-direct communication skill served him well with patients, colleagues, and in his many hospital leadership roles. He was a great family man who adored his house full of girls. I feel privileged to have known him.”

“He was a maestro in the operating theater,” said Alan Serure, M.D., a 1979 graduate of the Miller School who worked with Dr. Kenyon. “His hands moved like those of a conductor of an orchestra. Most surgeons would secure their knots three or four times. Dr. Kenyon only used two; his knots were perfect every time.”

“He epitomized the perfect surgeon and was an amazing teacher,” said John Uribe, M.D., chief medical executive of Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, who first met Dr. Kenyon as a resident at Jackson. “He just made you want to learn.”

In the mid-1960’s, Dr. Kenyon joined both the Doctors Hospital and Baptist Hospital medical staffs and, over the years, served as chief of surgery and chief of staff of both hospitals. Until recently, he chaired the Doctors Hospital board and served on the Baptist Health and Baptist Health Medical Group board, where his gentle leadership left an indelible impression.

“Norm had a magnificent way of connecting with people, whether they were his patients or his peers,” said Jack A. Ziffer, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Baptist Health South Florida. “He was quietly spoken and profoundly precise in his choice of words, but their import was tremendous. Many of us have benefitted from his quiet wisdom.”

Born in Clearwater, Florida, Dr. Kenyon spent most of his childhood in Pinellas County. He completed his undergraduate education at St. Petersburg Junior College, where he was president of the Pyramid Club, and at Atlanta’s Emory University, where he was president of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. There he roomed with his future wife’s brother — a Miami dentist who brought the couple together.

Over his lifetime, Dr. Kenyon earned numerous awards for his work and dedication to the community. These included the Raymond H. Alexander Award from the Florida chapter of the American College of Surgeons, the James H. Corwin Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Surgical Society, the Person of the Year Award from South Miami Hospital Associates, and the University of Miami Teaching Award.

Inducted into the University’s Iron Arrow Honor Society decades earlier, he was on hand in 2013 when his oldest daughter was recognized with the same honor. In addition to his wife and three daughters, Kenyon is survived by five grandchildren, Caroline, Laura, Clinton, Taylor and Carlysle.

 

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