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Dr. Kirby L.C. von Kessler, former chief of orthopedics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, dies

Dr. Kirby L.C. von Kessler was an avid fox hunter.
Dr. Kirby L.C. von Kessler was an avid fox hunter. (handout)

Dr. Kirby L.C. von Kessler, former chief of orthopedics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and an avid fox hunter who was the longtime attending physician for the Maryland Hunt Cup, died March 12 from a heart attack at his home in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The former Glyndon resident was 88.

“I’ve known Kirby for more than 30 years and I loved him” said Dr. Carlton C. Sexton, an orthopedic radiologist. “He always got to the crux of a matter because of the decades and decades of his incredible experiences.”

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Kirby Langston Chandler von Kessler, son of Dr. Wilson von Kessler, an Army Medical Corps officer, and his wife, Marie Yon, a homemaker, was born in Denver, Colorado, and spent his childhood on Army posts throughout the West and Midwest.

Dr. von Kessler was a 1950 graduate of Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Harvard University. He obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1958 and completed an internship and residency at Roosevelt Hospital, now St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City.

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He served in the Army Medical Corps from 1960 to 1962 and completed his orthopedic training at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In 1966, Dr. von Kessler moved to Baltimore when he joined Four East Madison Orthopedic Associates and was associated with Children’s Hospital from 1966 to 1989, when he was named medical director, a position he held until 1999. He was also vice president of patient services at the hospital.

During the 1990s, he was chief of orthopedics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, until his retirement in 2000.

He also served as an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1971 to 2000 and the University of Maryland Medical Center from 1992 to 2000.

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Dr. von Kessler was not the least fearful of expressing an opinion on medical matters.

“He loved teaching orthopedic residents and co-practitioners,” Dr. Sexton said. “If he lectured me, he always fixed me with the gaze and a firmness which would grab my attention, and after he made his point, he smiled and gave a reassuring laugh.”

Dr. von Kessler conducted most of his teaching and quite a bit of his practice at Union Memorial Hospital. He also volunteered for many years as a physician for the Children’s League, formerly the League for Crippled Children, in Cumberland.

He took great pleasure every year at Christmas, dressed as Santa Claus, assisting the Shriners in giving out presents to pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital.

After retiring to his home on Geist Road in Glyndon, Dr. von Kessler continued working for a number of years as a case review physician for the Social Security Administration.

In addition to his busy professional life, Dr. von Kessler, the son of a cavalry officer, was an inveterate horseman. While serving with the Army Medical Corps in Germany, he trained and rode horses.

An avid foxhunter, he rode to the hounds locally with both the Mount Carmel Hounds and the Green Spring Valley Hounds. He also hunted in Ireland and England, including at Old Surrey and Bristow, where a young Winston Churchill had ridden to the hounds.

For many years, Dr. von Kessler was the attending physician at the Maryland Hunt Cup and at other nearby steeplechase races, where his “reputation among local equestrians was well known and appreciated as typically he would let them get back in the saddle sooner than other doctors,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.

Dr. von Kessler, a physician-scholar, had a wide range of intellectual and historic interests.

He was fluent in French, German and Russian, and traveled extensively, both for work and pleasure, including teaching residents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Indonesia with the Orthopedics Overseas organization, which allowed him “personal explorations of the Eastern Mediterranean from Pompeii and Herculaneum to Troy, and destinations near and far in both the Orient and the Occident,” according to the profile.

An avid reader and lifelong learner, he was rarely seen without a book in the pocket of his jacket, which often would be a volume of Goethe, Lessing or von Kleist, which he read in German.

“Kirby was always recommending a play or a movie, and they were things I learned from,” Dr. Sexton said. “My wife, Betsy, and I were on a cruise to the Baltic, and he told us we had to visit the Vasa Museum in Stockholm and see the 17th-century warship that was launched and immediately sank into the Stockholm Harbor. This is the kind of thing Kirby would do.”

Dr. von Kessler enjoyed a spirited game of tennis, shooting and working on his property. He also liked to smoke a daily Schimmelpennick cigar while sitting on a favorite bench.

He was a member of the Elkridge Club and an active communicant and acolyte at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Timonium.

Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering in the autumn are incomplete.

Dr. von Kessler is survived by his wife of 29 years, the former Elizabeth Constable; two sons, Kirby R.B. von Kessler of Glencoe and Wilson von Kessler of Chattanooga, Tennessee; two daughters, Alexandra McMahon of Towson and Caroline Hughes of Virginia Beach, Virginia; a stepson, Ira Moby Parsons of Durham, New Hampshire; two stepdaughters, Isabelle Loring and Caroline “Harvey” Moore, both of Dedham, Massachusetts; and many grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Doris Poeschl ended in divorce.

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