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Dr. Kesler, force behind the CMC, retires after 27 years

Dr. Kesler and patient
Courtesy of HS Development
Dr. Richard Kesler with one of the many patients he has seen in his 27 years as a U.Va. pediatrician.

By Mary Jane Gore

Dr. Richard W. Kesler’s abundant interests and avocations would have made the University’s founding father proud.

But while his outside pursuits encompass a variety of subjects, his work for the U.Va. Department of Pediatrics was his main focus for 27 years, until his retirement Dec. 31.

Kesler headed the residency-training program throughout that period, and served as the department’s vice chair for most of that time. He organized several specialty clinics for children.

He fostered a vision for a multidisciplinary Children’s Medical Center, of which he ultimately became the medical director. His vision includes plans for a new CMC building.

The community ties he has nurtured have benefited two generations of children. And that’s just his work life.

Now that he’s retired, Kesler, 60, plans to pursue other interests. He is an old-car buff, gourmet chef and an enthusiast of gardening, landscape design and architecture. He will spend more time in Asia, supervising his profitable businesses there. He also will continue to consult on pediatric projects, especially the new CMC building.

When Kesler came to U.Va. in 1974, he took over pediatric residency training. Since then, he has trained nearly 300 residents and built U.Va.’s reputation as one of the most sought-after programs in the country. Each year, 1,500 applications are submitted for 11 slots.

“Dick has handled the responsibilities of training residents in a safe and thoughtful way for more than 25 years,” says Dr. Thomas Massaro, chief of staff for the Health System and a fellow pediatrician. “I can’t remember ever hearing of a resident who wasn’t grateful to train under him.”

Pediatrics chair Dr. Robert Chevalier says Kesler takes a personal interest in all of the residents. He mentors them, supports them through the stresses of internship and residency, and takes great interest in their success after graduation. While most small residency programs train people to go into private practice, about half of U.Va.’s pediatric residents enter academic practice.

Another of Kesler’s first projects was organizing nephrology and rheumatology clinics for children. He worked closely with internists to care for these patients, as well as children with gastrointestinal conditions.

In 1980, Kesler attended a conference that described a unified children’s medical center within a hospital, combining medical, surgical and support services. Kesler and Blizzard, along with hospital director John Ashley and local supporter Barry Battle, fostered the idea of a Children’s Medical Center at U.Va. In 1982, the Medical Policy Committee approved the plan. Eventually, the center found a home on the seventh floor of the new University Hospital.

“Dr. Kesler is deeply committed to this center,” Chevalier says, pointing out that Kesler formed the CMC Committee, a mix of health professionals and interested local people, and helped launch the telethons and radiothons that annually raise funds for the CMC.

The CMC and its committee have “become the most effective community relationship we have at the Medical Center, and probably in the whole institution,” Massaro says.

Its founding “is classic Dick Kesler,” he adds. “He did all the work and sold the idea quietly.

Dr. Sharon Hostler, head of the U.Va. Division of Developmental Pediatrics, has known Kesler since he arrived here. “I will miss his commitment to the concepts of family-centered care and, specifically, his protection of the play terrace on the seventh floor.” Some physicians have eyed that space for other purposes, but it has “remained sacrosanct because of Dick Kesler’s passion and his patronage of the hospital education department,” Hostler says.

The new CMC building on the grounds of the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center is the latest of Kesler’s cherished projects.

“He has …persisted through a series of business and operational plans, working drawings and multiple architects for a period of seven years to bring it to approval,” Hostler says. “When there were setbacks, he shook himself off and found another strategic plan.”

Even in retirement, he will likely don a hardhat and assist in fund raising for the project. He will also supervise the landscaping. “I will fight for the location and species of every tree.”


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