In memoriam: John Kirchner

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Dr. John A. Kirchner

There will be a memorial service on Saturday, Oct. 1, for Dr. John A. Kirchner, chief of the Section of Otolaryngology at Yale School of Medicine 1951-1980 and an internationally recognized pioneer in laryngeal physiology and cancer research. Kirchner, 96, died on July 31 after a brief illness.

The service will take place at 2 p.m. in the Cushing/Whitney Historical Library, Sterling Hall of Medicine, 333 Cedar St. All are invited to attend.

Kirchner was born and raised in Pennsylvania. An avid traveler throughout his life, he hitchhiked across the country after graduating from high school. This was during the Depression era, and Kirchner later recalled that the most generous people were often those who had the least. He attended college and medical school at the University of Virginia, receiving his M.D. in 1940.

After completing his internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, he enlisted in the army at the outbreak of World War II. He served as a medical officer with the rank of captain in the 314th Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, landing on Utah Beach on D-Day plus nine. His medical unit, hidden under trees at the edge of a field, was once strafed by American planes. Realizing the pilots had mistaken the Americans for Germans, Kirchner got into the ambulance marked with a red cross and drove it into the center of the field as the planes came around for another pass. For this and other meritorious actions, Kirchner was awarded the Bronze Star. After returning from Europe in late 1945, Kirchner completed his otolaryngology residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he met his future wife, Aline Legault.

At Yale, Kirchner taught medical students, trained residents, performed surgery and conducted research on laryngeal physiology and cancer. In 1963-1964, he took a sabbatical year and studied the larynx at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, England. One of his major areas of professional interest was the connection between smoking and cancer. After his retirement from practice in 1985, Kirchner made numerous appearances at New Haven schools to speak about the health hazards of tobacco.

Kirchner was chosen to serve terms as president of several national professional societies, and was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, both national and international. Fluent in several languages, he was often invited to give lectures and teach courses abroad.

An organic gardener, crabber and fisherman, Kirchner was also a musician who played guitar, accordion and piano. In addition to traveling, he enjoyed mountain climbing and traveled to Europe to scale the Alps several times. He had a lifelong love of learning and continued to take adult education courses well into his eighties.

Kirchner is survived by his wife, Aline; his children, J. Cameron Kirchner, Thomas L. Kirchner, Paul E. Kirchner, Marie (Mimi) Kirchner and Christine (Tina) Jackson; 14 grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Ronald McDonald House.

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