Brian W. Kennedy

"We must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination." Sherlock Holmes.

Date of Birth: May 22, 1943 in Montreal, Quebec, second son of David and Rose Kennedy.

Married: October 1972 to Sandy Begbie - two children, Meghan and Eric.

Date of Death: November 27, 1994, Guelph, Ontario.

A Brief Biography of Brian Wayne Kennedy (1943-1994)
by Larry Schaeffer

Brian Kennedy was the second son of David and Rose Kennedy born on May 22, 1943 in Montreal, Quebec.  Brian and his brother, Ronald, were both very interested in ice hockey and they played on outdoor rinks together with Ronald’s friends even though Brian was a couple of years younger.  Brian became a competent goaltender and had dreams of competing professionally.  His father would taxi him to practices and would always stand behind him while he was in goal offering encouragement.  Keep in mind that in those days hockey rinks were outdoors and temperatures were often below –10C.  One day a puck caught Brian in the eye, which caused him to have vision problems and ended his aspirations to be a professional hockey player.

Brian attended Macdonald College from 1962 to 1965, but apparently never finished the requirements for a B.Sc.  After two years as a sales representative for Bonar and Bemis Limited, he decided to go back to school.  Brian was admitted to a Master’s degree program by Dr. John Moxley at Macdonald College.  By today’s standards such an admission would never be allowed, but luckily Dr. Moxley saw the potential researcher in Brian.  From 1967 to 1969 Brian worked on blood group factors and their relationships to economic traits in swine.

In the fall of 1969 Brian began Ph.D. studies in animal breeding at Cornell University under the direction of Dr. Charles Henderson.   Brian minored in statistics and quantitative genetics.  His research project was on Canadian beef cattle growth data from Agriculture Canada.  Brian’s parents brought 20 boxes of computer cards with beef data from Ottawa to Ithaca, New York because they would not fit into Brian’s MG sport car.  The US Customs officers did not know what to make of all those boxes, but finally let them through.  At Cornell, Brian shared an office with two other students on the third floor of Morrison Hall.  With the boxes of cards he built a six foot high wall around his desk, which was the only place to store them.  Brian spent many hours sorting these cards in the computer room before putting them onto magnetic tapes, which he later returned to Agriculture Canada.

Graduate student life at Cornell focused on coursework with many late nights in the computer room working on assignments together.  This was a fantastic learning environment and often Dr. Henderson would be there as well.  Computing work could only be done after 11 pm on the Dairy Records Processing Lab’s IBM 360 machine with 128Kb of memory.  During the day there was time for touch football games or hands of bridge during the noon hour.  Almost as valuable as the courses were the morning coffee breaks where ad hoc discussions with Dr. Henderson always provided food for thought.  Dr. Henderson was at one time a prominent athlete in his own right, and he was a staunch supporter of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, as was Brian.  In this respect, Brian had a clear advantage over the other graduate students when the coffee break topics turned to hockey.  Even so, Brian was a good friend and quiet leader in the computer room for other graduate students.

Graduate students at Cornell were always encouraged to attend scientific meetings, especially if travel by car was possible.  In 1971 the annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association was held in East Lansing, Michigan.  Brian and a fellow graduate student drove from Ithaca to East Lansing in Brian’s MG in convertible mode.  As they arrived in East Lansing in the late afternoon, a terrific thunderstorm swept through.  There were reports of an MG being driven through town with the passenger bailing water out of the car.  The MG and passengers survived the ordeal, and Brian kept his little MG to the end of his life, though he only brought it out on warm summer days in deference to its age.

In October of 1972 he married Sandy Begbie and accepted an assistant professorship position at Macdonald College as well as directorship of research for the Dairy Herd Analysis Service (DHAS) in Quebec.  He did not actually finish writing his thesis nor defend it until 1974.  In 1977 Brian was promoted to associate professor and had already become a recognized researcher in dairy cattle.  He served as chair of a national committee for dairy cattle which advised Agriculture Canada on matters related to genetic evaluation and data recording.  Once this committee meeting was held in Montreal and some of the members were invited to Brian’s home for supper.  Sandy had prepared marvelous lasagna, salad, fresh bread, and wine.  However, Brian ate very little during the meal and seemed to have his mind somewhere else.  As soon as the meal was finished, which seemed a little rushed, we were ushered out of the house and into his car.  Brian drove us directly to the Macdonald College ice arena in order to make the start of a hockey game in which he was playing, as there was not enough time to take us to our motel.  Brian’s team won easily, and his passion for hockey was never questioned.

In 1979 Brian took a position in dairy cattle breeding at the University of California at Davis where he worked with John Pollak and Eric Bradford.  While in Davis his daughter, Meghan, was born.  His son, Eric, was born later back in Canada, and was named after Eric Bradford.  California offered little in the way of ice hockey for Brian, and in 1981 Brian moved back to Canada (God’s country as he often referred to it) to the University of Guelph.  By 1984 he became full professor of Animal & Poultry Science.  Brian joined as many hockey teams as was physically possible, playing 4 or 5 games a week.  One of those teams was a faculty team known as the Grey Gryphons.  This team competed annually with similar teams from other universities.  In 1992, the Grey Gryphons defeated his former team from Macdonald College to win the tournament.  After Brian’s death, his teammates from the Grey Gryphons and Macdonald College pooled funds to sponsor a silver trophy, named the Brian Kennedy Memorial Trophy, to go to the winner of this annual tournament event.  Brian’s  nickname on the team was ‘The Silver Fox’.  Brian thought that this was because of his cunning maneuvers on the ice, but his teammates agreed that it was just because of his nearly white hair.  Through all of his intramural hockey games, his wife Sandy was consistently present to watch him play, and was often the only spectator in the stands.

While hockey was Brian’s passion in life, his research and teaching were his profession to which he was equally dedicated.  He interacted well with students and explained difficult topics in a clear and logical manner.  In Guelph he took over the leadership role in swine genetics, and his research concentrated on linking quantitative genetics theory with the statistical theory of linear models.  Brian contributed significantly to understanding gene actions, finite populations, major gene effects, cytoplasmic effects, and the effects of selection on estimation of genetic parameters.  Brian’s research led to 167 scientific papers and 161 presentations at scientific meetings.  He guided 23 graduate students and numerous visitors (1 or 2 per year) in their research projects. This led to many different research problems and papers with many different co-authors.

In 1982 Brian helped to convince Dr. Henderson to spend a year in Guelph to write his book, “Applications of Linear Models in Animal Breeding”. With John Pollak (now at Cornell University) and Dr. Henderson, an annual Guelph-Cornell colloquium was begun which alternated between Guelph and Ithaca.  Research ideas were exchanged during a day and a half of presentations.  This annual event now includes Michigan State (due to its Guelph and Cornell connections) and is known as the Kennedy Memorial Colloquium.

Brian was sought after as a consultant on projects in other countries. Brian liked to travel. He gave courses or seminars in over 16 countries.  On a trip to Spain, Brian accidentally took his wife's passport rather than his own. He was detained by Spanish authorities until his passport could be flown to Spain. After that, everyone would always ask Brian if he had the right passport before he left the country.

Brian had one other hobby which was a keen interest in Sherlock Holmes.  In May of 1994 Brian was invited to the University of Wisconsin to give the first A. B. Chapman lectures.  One of his seminars was entitled “Genetics and statistics as understood by Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, M.D.”.  In some ways I believe Brian tried to emulate Sherlock Holmes. Once Brian had presented the logic of his arguments, it was difficult to sweep them aside in a debate without looking foolish.  In 1992 Brian and I pooled our research funds to buy a Hewlett-Packard workstation that we named ‘sherlock’.  Brian's favorite quote from Sherlock Holmes was "We must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination."  Brian’s books and notes on Sherlock Holmes have been taken over by his daughter, Meghan.
Brian received a number of awards and honours for his career accomplishments.  In 1984 Brian received the Canadian Association of Animal Breeders Medal for Excellence in Genetics and Physiology from the Canadian Society of Animal Science. In 1987 he received a Senior Research Fellowship from the Agricultural University in Wageningen, the Netherlands which he enjoyed very much. In 1990 he followed Daniel Gianola in winning both the J. L. Lush Award and the Rockefeller Prentice Memorial Award from the American Dairy Science Association and the American Society of Animal Science, respectively. He was the first A. B. Chapman Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin in 1994.  Within Canada and Ontario he received the Excellent Service Contributor Award from the Canadian Swine Improvement Advisory Board in 1992, the Honorary Member Award from the Ontario Swine Breeders' Association and the Industry Leader Award from the Ontario Pork Congress in the same year. Within the University of Guelph he received the OAC Alumni Association Distinguished Researcher Award in 1991 and the Distinguished Extension Award in 1994.

In 1992 Brian was diagnosed with cancer and had an operation to remove the tumour and a kidney.  He missed only 3 weeks of lectures in his quantitative genetics course.  Through 1992 and 1993 it appeared that Brian had beaten the cancer, but in 1994 he began to feel its presence again.  He underwent chemotherapy and other treatments, and looked for new experimental solutions that he might try.  Through all of this he continued his research studies and work at the university.  He attended part of the World Congress of Genetics Applied to Livestock Production in Guelph in August of 1994.  On November 27, 1994 he died.  Brian was an integral part of the Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock and an important contributor to the world animal breeding community.  The Brian Kennedy Memorial Scholarship was established from contributions of his friends to provide an annual award to a graduate student in animal breeding at the University of Guelph that represented the ideals that Brian would have looked for in a student.  Brian and I shared the Cornell experience with the same advisor, Dr. Henderson, similar courses, and the same fellow graduate students for 3+ years.  We also shared our professional career experiences in Canada since 1973, and shared 14 years together at the University of Guelph.  I think of him almost everyday – it’s hard not to when he left behind so many things that remind you of him.