Kenneth F. Spence Jr.

June 02, 2011
  • Dr. Kenneth F. Spence Jr.
Dr. Kenneth F. Spence Jr.

Kenneth F. Spence Jr., a well-known orthopedic surgeon, died May 30, 2011, of complications from leukemia at the Hooper House Hospice in Forest Hill, Md.

Dr. Spence, the son of a civil engineer and a homemaker, was born and raised in Hagerstown, Md., and graduated in 1949 from Hagerstown High School.  

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., where he played, and in his senior year coached, lacrosse, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., in 1957. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving a one-year orthopedic internship and then a three-year orthopedic surgery residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., followed by a pediatric orthopedic residency at the James Lawrence Kernan Hospital in Baltimore until 1962.

After becoming board certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery in 1965, he served a tour in Vietnam as an orthopedic surgeon with the Third Medical Battalion with U.S. Marine Corps in Da Nang, Vietnam, and was chief of orthopedic surgery at the U.S. Naval Station Hospital in Da Nang. While stationed at the Da Nang Hospital, when he wasn’t treating wounded soldiers, Dr. Spence took time out to treat Vietnamese civilians at a clinic in Da Nang, including performing a complicated surgery, with a neurosurgeon colleague, on a young Vietnamese civilian’s cervical spine, which was the subject of an article in Time Magazine entitled “Spare Time” in Vietnam in the Aug. 19, 1966, edition. After serving in Vietnam, he returned to Bethesda, where he was assistant chief of orthopedics at the U.S. Naval Hospital. He was honorably discharged from active duty from the U.S. Navy on June 30, 1969, as a commander.  

After completing his naval service, Dr. Spence returned to Baltimore and established what is now known as Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland with fellow orthopedic surgeons and partners, Dr. John J. Tansey and Dr. Michael A. Ellis. In the early ’70s, Dr. Spence and Kernan were among the first physicians and hospitals to do knee arthroscopy and soon thereafter total joint replacements, both of which are common procedures today.  

“Dr. Spence was the consummate physician” said Dr. George Brouillet, a friend, partner and colleague with Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland. “He was extremely bright, a gifted surgeon and a skilled teacher. He consistently sought better methods to provide care. He recognized that athletes presented unique challenges in order to return to high levels of performance, and he developed techniques for helping them do so, long before the recognition of a sub-specialty of Sports Medicine.” He was beloved by patients and staff, revered by his peers, and respected by administrators. He served in numerous positions and roles, locally and nationally. He was the president of the Maryland Orthopedic Association and the Maryland representative to the Board of Councilors of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. He served Kernan Hospital as its chief of surgery, chief medical officer, member of the board of directors and member of the endowment board. He was a vital link between Kernan and the University of Maryland as the hospitals contemplated, and then completed, their merger.

“Dr. Spence was a role model and resource for a generation of orthopedic surgeons who had the opportunity to train at his side, emphasizing the values of hard work, honesty, humility and compassion. He was a giant in his profession, and his legacy lives on in those who he trained,” Dr. Brouillet said.

For 20 years, Dr. Spence was also an assistant clinical professor of orthopedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, teaching residents in orthopedics there and at Kernan Hospital. Having a particular interest in sports medicine, Dr. Spence was also the team physician for the Baltimore Bullets of the National Basketball Association from 1969 to 1973, and team physician for the Baltimore Blast, a Major Indoor Soccer League team from 1983 to 1993. During this time, he was the surgeon for many of Baltimore’s favorite professional athletes, including Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, Earl (the Pearl) Monroe and Johnny Unitas.

Dr. Spence had many interests outside of medicine, including skiing, snorkeling, golf, squash, swimming, reading, and good food and wine.

Dr. Spence retired from active surgery in 1996. For the next three years, he served as medical director at Kernan Hospital before moving to Savannah, Ga., where he and Sheila lived for a number of years. After returning to Maryland, Dr. Spence maintained an active independent medical examination practice for the last five years. At a ceremony held Nov. 3, 2010, Kernan Hospital, in recognition of Dr. Spence’s contributions, renamed its in-patient surgical unit, currently undergoing renovation, in his honor.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Sheila; his brother, R. Noel Spence of Clear Spring, Md.; his sons by a prior marriage, Kenneth F. Spence III (Sarah) of Edina, Minnesota, G. Mark Spence of Cork, Ireland, and W. Scott Spence (Jasmine) of Newtown, Pa.; stepsons, Wayne Savage (Marie) of Ellicott City, Md., and Erik Savage (Erin) of Catonsville, Md.; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be Saturday, June 4, 2011, at 10 a.m. at St. Paul Church, 3755 St. Paul St., Ellicott City, MD 21043.
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the Kenneth F. Spence Jr. M.D. Fund to benefit Kernan Hospital’s Kenneth F. Spence Jr. M.D. Progressive Care Unit, c/o UMMS Foundation, 110 S. Paca St., 9th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21201-5434.

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