Kevin M. Cahill, 86, passed away; Tropical disease expert with a political slant


Kevin M. Cahill, who managed to squeeze several careers into one lifetime as a leading expert on tropical diseases, a physician to celebrities and politicians, a close adviser to New York Governor Hugh L. Carey, and a rescuer of the An ailing American Irish Historical Society, but who later faced charges of sexual assault by two women, died Wednesday at his home in Point Lookout, NY, on Long Island. He was 86.

His son Brendan said the cause of death had not been determined, but his father was in poor health.

dr. Cahill was a short, stocky man with big bushy eyebrows and an accent that fluctuated between Gaelic brogue and Noo Yawkese.

After an early stint as a physician in Cairo and India, working with Mother Teresa, Dr. Cahill returned to New York, where he established one of the country’s first tropical disease centers, Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was one of the first doctors to draw attention to the emerging AIDS crisis in the city, organizing a groundbreaking conference on the disease in 1983.

He spent the late 1970s commuting to Albany, where, as Governor Carey’s health policy expert, he moved mountains to reshape the state’s flailing medical bureaucracy, making many enemies but impressing even his opponents. as a quick study and an effective political combatant.

dr. Cahill, a top expert in humanitarian medicine who has worked in 65 countries, established an amputation clinic in Somalia and led earthquake relief in Nicaragua, experiences he discussed in 1993 in the NPR’s “Fresh Air With Terry Gross” program.

He was the personal physician to a long list of elite New Yorkers, including the top figures in the city’s Roman Catholic hierarchy. He was with Leonard Bernstein when Bernstein took his last breath. He was one of two American doctors invited to Rome to assess the health of Pope John Paul II after he was shot in 1981.

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And a prominent figure among Irish Americans who quoted Yeats with ease, he revived the American Irish Historical Society, which was founded in 1897 and occupies a stately former mansion on Fifth Avenue, opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The association had practically ceased to exist when Dr. Cahill took over in the early 1970s. He raised funds to renovate the house and made the annual gala a must-do on the city’s social calendar, while helping to make Ireland a subject of popular fascination.

“Dr. Cahill was a pioneer in bringing forward and taking seriously the study of Irish and Irish-American culture that has long been missing,” said Peter Quinn, a writer and former member of the historical society’s board of directors, in a statement. interview by phone.

The life of dr. Cahill was not without controversy. His critics found him serious, nepotistic and selfish.

As his time as head of the American Irish Historical Society progressed, he was accused of treating it more and more like his personal kingdom. He installed his sons as officers, booted officials who crossed him and unilaterally announced a plan to sell the mansion in 2021, a move that has been reviewed by the state government.

“The building on Fifth Avenue is something that stands for all of us,” Brian McCabe, a former leading figure in society, told The New York Times that year. “This is about a very small group that controls what is held in confidence for the Irish in America and the rest of the world.”

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In 2020, a former patient, Megan Wesko, sued Dr. Cahill in federal court for claiming to have had a romantic relationship with her and sexually assaulted her during an investigation, a development reported in The Times in June. was reported. In 2022, another woman, Natalie Mauro, said he also sexually assaulted her in his office.

dr. Cahill was not charged with any crimes. He denied the charges, and the lawsuit was pending at the time of his death.

Kevin Michael Cahill, a grandson of Irish immigrants, was born on May 5, 1936 in the Bronx. His father, John, was a doctor. His mother, Genevieve (Campion) Cahill, was a teacher and homemaker.

He studied classical languages ​​at Fordham University, graduating in 1957 and receiving his medical degree from Cornell in 1961. As a medical student and later a fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he traveled to Calcutta, India (now Kolkata), where he worked in a local clinic with Mother Teresa, then a little-known Albanian nun.

“I find romance in environments that others—quite rightly—see only as filthy, dilapidated wastelands,” he said in a 2008 graduation address at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. “Those negatives certainly existed in Calcutta. fetid stench of Indian urban decay, I especially remember the strong smell of exotic spices.”

He served in the Navy Medical Corps from 1963 to 1965, working in a research facility in Cairo, after which he returned to New York to establish his medical practice.

He married Kathryn McGinity in 1961. She passed away in 2004. With his son Brendan, he leaves behind four other sons, Christopher, Kevin, Sean and Denis, and nine grandchildren.

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dr. Cahill’s experience made him an obvious choice of Lenox Hill Hospital to lead the Tropical Disease Center, which opened in 1966. In 1970 he was appointed Chair of the Tropical Diseases Division of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, a position he held until 2006.

After becoming governor in 1975, Mr. Carey, himself a product of the Irish Catholic political scene in New York City, Dr. Cahill to Albany and tasked him with cleaning up the state’s sprawling, nearly insolvent health care system.

The two were old friends, and Dr. Cahill was one of the governor’s closest advisers. He worked for $1 a day, one day a week, often staying overnight at the governor’s mansion.

“He’s very determined, rather stubborn and rigid,” Albert H. Blumenthal, a Democrat who served as majority leader in the State Assembly, told The Times in 1977. “But he’s an easy man to deal with. There is no cheating for him.”

However, the relationship did not last; dr. Cahill and Mr. Carey reportedly had an argument and Dr. Cahill left the governor’s office in 1980.

He then worked for the New York City Board of Health, advised the United Nations on global health, and headed the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham. He also authored several books, including, most recently, “Tropical Medicine: A Clinical Text” (2021). He left both Fordham and Lenox Hill Hospital in 2020.

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