Leonard Bernard Kahn was born on July 20,1937 at the Frangwen Maternity Hospital in Johannesburg. His father, a lawyer, was age 30 at the time and his mother Rachel age 25 years. Len attended Orange Grove primary school where he showed ‘above average academic ability’ and was a member of the star studded Under 12A soccer team which completed the season without loss (Len pictured below standing row, first left).
Leonard’s family was active in the North Eastern Hebrew Congregation. When Len was 12 years old, his family moved from Orange Grove to a double story house in Raedene.
Highlands North High School
The following year, he entered Highlands North High School, where year after year he made excellent progress, receiving A's in nearly all subjects. In his matriculation year, he served as a prefect (together with medical classmates to be: Gerald Lampert, Mervyn Damelin and Gary Katz). He received a first-class pass with distinctions in Latin, Mathematics and Physical Science. He was also accomplished in sporting and cultural events, including rugby, school representative in Johannesburg Junior City Council, student officer in cadets, and house captain. He was awarded a special prize at graduation for outstanding scholarship.
Highlands North High School Prefects Matriculation Year 1954
Highlighted: Back row: Gary Katz; Middle row left to right: Gerald Lampert, Leonard Kahn; Front row: Mervyn Damelin.
Len was one of seven Highlands North boys admitted to Wits medical school in the bumper year of 1955 along with Gary Katz, Gerald Lampert, Jack Kussel, Gerald Shulman, Mervyn Damelin and Gerald Schneider. (Ivan Sampson, first on the left in the middle row of the prefect picture, joined the medical class the following year).
A second cousin of Len's, the late Sam Kahn was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement. He was the leader of the South African Communist Party and served as a Member of Parliament from 1949-1952, representing African voters in the Western Cape Province. For Len's barmitzvah, in 1950, he flew up from Cape Town to deliver the keynote speech of congratulation. Tipped off in 1960 that he was about to be arrested by the Bureau of State Security following the banning of the Communist Party, Sam Kahn escaped and settled in Finchley, North London, where his family joined him.
First class medical student
Leonard was one of only nine in our class of 115 first year Wits medical students to achieve first class passes in all four subjects — physics, chemistry, botany and zoology. In second year, Len had a difficult time adjusting to the harrowing ordeal of his first exposure to a human cadaver but nevertheless was one of only two to obtain a first class in anatomy during that second year.
During his third year he developed a love for microscopy and the study of microanatomy of human tissue in health and disease.
He graduated MB BCh in 1960 and spent the following year doing grueling house-jobs in medicine and surgery (Prof DuPlessis' ward). In 1962 he moved to the University of Cape Town (UCT) to specialize in pathology and following a 3-year registrarship program was awarded the Degree of Master of Medicine in Pathology (MMed Path UCT).
St Louis Missouri
In 1967, Leonard his wife and their one-year-old daughter moved to Saint Louis, Missouri where Len completed a two-year fellowship in Surgical Pathology at Washington University School of Medicine. This was partially sponsored by a Cecil John Adams Fellowship from UCT.
His mentor in Saint Louis was the world-renowned Lauren V Ackerman, an American physician and pathologist, who championed the subspecialty of surgical pathology in the mid-20th century and whose textbook ‘Surgical Pathology’ was a classic in its field. He recruited fellows to his program from all over the world and many progressed to become eminent academicians and departmental heads.
Professorships in Surgical Pathology
Following this two-year fellowship, Leonard returned to UCT where he served as the youngest appointed Associate Professor at UCT from 1970 to 1977. He was then recruited as a Full Professor at the University of North Carolina 1977 to 1980 and Chief of Division of Surgical Pathology. His next move was to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center where he was appointed Departmental Chair of Pathology and Professor of Pathology at the State University Stonybrook. He also held professorships at City College of New York, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Zucker School of Medicine. Len stepped down from the Chair in 2009 after a 28-year stint and is currently a full-time senior pathologist at the much expanded multihospital Northwell Health System.
Len as Chairman of Pathology 1980-2009 at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New York
His department attracted residents worldwide and they have achieved success at prestigious academic institutions as well as fulfilling the needs of busy community hospitals and medical examiners offices.
Changes in the practice of pathology
During his 50-year career, Leonard has observed dramatic changes in the practice of pathology including a plethora of subspecialty oriented books and journals and advances in technology such as diagnostic electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry and more recently molecular genetics.
He has published over 180 articles in peer reviewed journals and co-authored several textbooks. In particular, he is the prime author of an Armed Forces Institute of Pathology fascicle, (separately published instalments of books dealing with pathology of different organ systems) entitled ‘Tumors and Cysts of the Jaws’. This is one of a series of such fascicles which appear prominently in the libraries of departments of pathology worldwide.
Interest in tumors of the skeletal system
A prime interest of Len's is the study of diseases, predominantly tumors of the skeletal system, an interest inspired by his illustrious mentor, Lauren V Ackerman. He was appointed a member of the prestigious International Skeletal Society (ISS) in 1982. Its membership includes radiologists, pathologists and orthopedic surgeons from all over the world with similar interests. He assumed the role of Chairman of the program committee in 1996 and was responsible for organizing the Society's annual meetings at international venues. His achievements academically in the field of skeletal pathology and his input in the Society led to two prestigious awards — the gold medal of the ISS in Geneva in 1992 and the Society's highest honor, the gold Founders' medal in Rome in 2002.
Len at Work 2015, Department of Anatomic Pathology, Northwell Health System, New York
In 1957, Len met Louise Tuch from Sea Point, Cape Town during an annual holiday foray to South Africa’s ‘Windy City’. After a five- year courtship, the initial three years conducted via weekly letters and an occasional expensive trunk call, Len and Louise were married in the Marais Road Synagogue in Sea Point in February 1963. Aubrey Milunsky served as best man at the wedding.
Len’s wife, Louise, is a graduate of UCT with a BA degree in teaching and a major in Hebrew. She attended an advanced Hebrew teaching course in Jerusalem in 1963 as well as a postgraduate course at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Her teaching career included appointments at The Herzlia Day School in Cape Town, the afternoon Hebrew School as principal in Durham, North Carolina and since 1980 The North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York where she teaches both Hebrew language and religious studies. Len and Louise are active members of the modern orthodox Great Neck Synagogue and observe an orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Their three children and nine grandchildren have followed in their religious commitments. Len comments that integration of religious philosophy with scientific practice has proved quite challenging but is important in providing stabilizing and normative values for family life.
Accidents and emergencies
Len's life has been punctuated by some near tragedies including two separate car accidents en-route to the Kruger National Park involving overturned vehicles. In one of these, Louise was ejected through the front windscreen from which the glass had also fortunately been ejected. Len survived intact but with broken eyeglasses and Louise sustained a pelvic fracture.
In another episode in 2014, Len and Louise accompanied their daughter, Simone and her family on a 10-day Arctic ship expedition to the Svalbard peninsula some 1500 miles north of mainland Norway. On the day prior to the departure from Oslo to Svalbard, Len mentioned to Simone that he had been experiencing bilateral shoulder pain during his routine daily swimming laps and that he had just experienced some dyspnea on exertion when they were walking uphill to the synagogue in Oslo to attend Friday night services. Simone opined that he was having anginal symptoms, but Len nevertheless proceeded (somewhat foolhardily) with the expedition. All went well in Svalbard but on his return to New York, a stress test and angiogram prompted the need for immediate surgery, a triple coronary artery bypass. Fortunately, he has fully recovered and is back to swimming, hiking, travelling and performing cardio and weight exercises at the gym.
Opera and South African paintings
Len's other interests include opera, classical music and theater. His tastes in opera are quite catholic and include opera seria and buffo, traditional bel canto and modern such as Marnie, Satyagraha (Gandhi in South Africa) and others. His favorite cultural location is the Lincoln Center in New York City which he visits several times a month. He has a vast collection of classical vinyl records dating back to the early 1950s as well as an antique Victrola record player for 78 shellac records. He is an avid follower of English Premier Soccer League with no particular favorite team but usually rooting for the underdog. Despite his several decades in the States, much to the disapprobrium of his family, he has absolutely no interest in American football, basketball and baseball.
He has a significant predominantly South African art collection including works by Walter Battiss, Wecome Kaboka, Cecil Skotnes, Cecily Sash, Ben Macala, Dingemans, Lucas Sitole, Len's brother Maurice's graphic art and African masks.
Profile and pictures contributed by Leonard B Kahn, MMed Path (UCT) FRCP Path (London)