Dr. Robert G. Hennessy, a retired St. Agnes Hospital neurosurgeon who practiced for more than 45 years, died of cardiac arrest June 23 at Sinai Hospital. He lived in Lutherville.
“Bob was noted for his devotion to patient care and his remarkably good outcomes,” said Dr. Donlin M. Long, a distinguished service professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Born in 1934 in Louisville, Kentucky, he was the son of Robert Hennessy and his wife, Agnes. He was raised in Summit, New Jersey, and was a 1952 graduate of Seton Hall Prep School.
Dr. Hennessy earned a bachelor’s degree from The College of the Holy Cross and went on to graduate from the Georgetown University School of Medicine.
He later earned a master’s in business administration from Loyola University Maryland.
After postgraduate training in surgery at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Hennessy completed his residency training in neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and had additional postgraduate training in England and Sweden.
His colleague and friend, Dr. Long, said: “Bob was conservative in his views. He was serious about his religion and an exceptionally moral and ethical person. But what made him a good physician was he had the old-fashioned view that the patient came first.
“He was conscientious about making an accurate diagnosis … and he was a remarkable surgeon. He was quick and precise and had fewer complications than the average neurosurgeon,” said Dr. Long, a former chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Dr. Hennessy was drafted and served in the Navy as a lieutenant commander assigned as a neurosurgeon to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia.
Dr. Hennessy had joined Dr. Charles Henderson and started the first neurosurgical practice based at St. Agnes Hospital earlier in 1967.
“He was particularly recognized for his understanding of the spine and surgical diseases, and was one of the first neurosurgeons to focus on the spine, well before that subspecialty became popular,” said Dr. Long.
Dr. Hennessy served as chief of neurosurgery at St. Agnes for many years.
He was a past president of the Neurosurgical Society of the Virginias. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and American Association of Neurological Surgeons, a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Southern Neurological Association and diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners.
His family said that in 1978 Dr. Hennessy made Maryland medical history by treating a basilar artery aneurysm using a posterior approach.
In 1991, St. Agnes Hospital named Dr. Hennessy president of its medical staff. In 2003, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named him to the Maryland Board of Physicians and in 2007 the board elected him its chair.
In 2014, Dr. Hennessy was inducted into the Healing Hands Society at St. Agnes Hospital.
The award stated, “After more than 45 years of private practice, Dr. Hennessy continues to treat his patients not only with clinical skill, but reverence as well — he says he has never forgotten the directive from the Daughters at Saint Agnes to ‘be the best, for them.’”
“As the patriarch of his family, Bob was the brightest mind, the emotional rock, and the force that held them together,” said his son, Robert E. Hennessy of Wilmington, Delaware, in a family obituary. “He was the first person to consult when his children or grandchildren had a question about anything medical or financial, but he was always at his finest when it came to answers about life in general. With his generous heart and direct way of telling you how it is, you could always come to him for help or a reality check.”
Dr. Hennessy golfed and once played the St. Andrew’s Course in Scotland.
”Grandpa was an avid golfer who had a one-liner for everything on the golf course,” his grandson Matt Crain said in a eulogy. “‘Oh I thought I had it’ was a favorite every time he missed a putt. For long hitters he liked to say, ‘I love playing with long ball hitters; the woods are full of ‘em.’ Or anytime one of us would be excited about our new clubs, he would say, ‘Very nice. Now all you need is someone to swing them for you’. He loved to get out on the course with his family and outscore us with his methodical, straightforward game.”
A funeral Mass was held June 28 at Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville where he was a member.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Marie Ryan, a Boston College nursing school graduate; four daughters, Mary Beth Crane and Meghan Murray, both of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Katherine Weigman of Baltimore and Ann Bomleny of Windemere, Florida; a son, Robert E. Hennessy of Wilmington, Delaware; 19 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.