, Salem, MA

Local News

December 17, 2012

Salem obstetrician loved family, learning, life


He took the whole family horseback riding, despite never having ridden before, and it turned out half of them were allergic, his son, Tim, said.

Kavanagh grew up on May Street in Salem and graduated from St. John’s Prep at age 16. He went on to graduate from Boston College at age 19, Theresa said.

Kavanagh received his master’s in bacteriology at the University of Massachusetts, followed by a master’s of public health in health education from the Harvard School of Public Health.

He then went to the Boston University Medical School, graduating in 1957.

While in medical school, Kavanagh wrote a thesis on ulcerative colitis, a condition that killed his sister, Dorothy, at age 21.

Kavanagh partnered with Drs. John Belock, Richard Ryan and Robert Dale during his career in Salem.

He had an interest in public health, and published two papers that led to prevention of illness and change in the medical field.

His 1963 publication “A Scuba Syndrome” researched respiratory illness among members of the U.S. Navy swimming and dive team.

Kavanagh linked the problem to bacteria in contaminated air hoses, which led to changes in Navy regulations on scuba gear.

Kavanagh also co-authored an article on the use of talc on operating room gloves. A detailed report was made to the FDA, which ultimately led to ending the use of talc, a contaminant, in surgical gloves in 1972.

Two of his grandchildren, Emilie and Andrew Mitten, are studying medicine, following in the footsteps of their grandfather.

“My grandfather was a great role model and he gave me many gifts, including a love of learning and an appreciation of family,” said Emilie, Kavanagh’s oldest grandchild. “(He) was dedicated and generous, and I hope to embody those characteristics in my own medical career.”

Arthur and Theresa Kavanagh were married for 62 years.

Dan Kavanagh said his mother, Theresa, was his father’s “favorite person.”

“At times,” Theresa said, winking.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.

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