In the early 1950s, when obstetrics was an underrepresented specialty, Robert Kinch was a newcomer to Canada with a vision to enhance the field, produce excellent obstetricians and champion women’s health. No stranger to controversy, in the early 1970s he established one of the first family planning clinics in Montreal where women could be counselled on important health matters. And in the same decade, Kinch was the pro-choice chairman at Montreal General when anti-abortion demonstrators picketed the hospital.
A lifelong educator, Kinch has the singular distinction of having eight former graduates as chairs of the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology at universities across Canada. His patients, however, simply loved him for his compassion and dedication. Kinch was 91 when he died of natural causes in Montreal on July 22.
Robert Arthur Hugh Kinch was born on June 21, 1920, in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia (Iraq), the eldest son of Arthur Gordon Kinch, a British naval captain, and Violet Sherston Newman. The elder Kinch was serving with the Royal India Marine unit and Violet was a nursing sister when they met and married. Soon after their son was born, the couple relocated to Bombay, India, where they had two more children.
In keeping with English tradition, Kinch was sent to a boarding school in England at the age of 12 and attended the Cranbrook School in Kent in 1932. At 18, he was the first Cranbrook student allowed to take pre-med courses for acceptance into medicine while still at Cranbrook. Later that year, he was accepted to the prestigious Middlesex Hospital Medical School. When war was declared, Kinch tried to enlist in the navy in 1939 but the Navy urged him to finish his medical degree, which he did during the blitz at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital in London. As soon as he completed his medical degree, he enlisted with the British Royal Navy in 1943, where he served for the next three years as a lieutenant surgeon.
During this time, Kinch met and married Patricia Day, and by 1949 the couple had two children. A chance sighting of an “Ontario Wants You” billboard prompted him to move to Canada. Before he could practice medicine in Ontario, however, he had to redo his last year of residency. Then, from 1952 to 1957 he was busy as a clinical tutor at the University of Toronto, as well as running a thriving medical practice.
In 1957, Kinch moved his family to London, Ont., and became the head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Western Ontario. It was there that he developed his training program for identifying and mentoring future obstetricians and gynecologists and helped his students establish successful careers.
Colleague and now interim chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the McGill University Health Centre, Peter Gillett defines Kinch’s teaching philosophy as “choose them, cherish them and launch them.”
He goes on to say, “What makes someone an extraordinary teacher is the ability to instill in others a passion for learning, to encourage them to discover depths within themselves that they never knew were there and to help them tap abilities and strengths they never knew they had.”
Kinch’s reputation for excellence led to an offer from McGill in 1968 to become a professor in the department and obstetrician- and gynecologist-in-chief at the Montreal General. Later, he also held the same position at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.
The year after he was appointed, abortion became legal in Canada, but only under rigorous circumstances and for therapeutic reasons. When Kinch assumed the helm at Montreal General, he established a therapeutic action committee at the hospital so that women could have abortions. Demonstrators carried placards outside that read “Kinch the Killer.” But he held firm to his personal beliefs.
He continued to be at the forefront of women’s health care when he established a family health clinic to counsel women on family planning and sex education. He thought it equally important that his own students become educated in the matter.
André Lalonde, recently retired as executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, had a long association with Kinch and describes his impact on the profession. “He introduced sexual health training when it was taboo in all medical schools [because]he saw the need and responded. He was pro-choice and advocated for changes in Canada, offering training to future generations of professionals.”
In 1975, Kinch’s marriage to Patricia Day ended and CBC anchorwoman Kathy Keefler entered his life. The couple met in 1975 when Keefler took her daughter to see him as a patient and she remembers thinking at the time he was “extraordinarily attractive,” but both were then seeing other people. The two met again in 1982 when Keefler interviewed him for a CBC television program and the attraction soon proved mutual. They were married in 1983.
Kinch eventually vacated the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology and became a professor emeritus in 1986. The couple decided to move to Galveston, Tex., where Kinch was asked to be divisional chief of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The couple stayed there for a few years before Kinch accepted a similar position in Fort Worth, Tex.
In 1998, he rejoined McGill as a part-time teaching professor and continued his practice. Soon after, the Robert Kinch Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynecology was created. He retired at the age of 86.
Although he had little time to consider his own mortality, he was clear on how he wanted to be remembered. “I would like a small funeral service, just family and intimate friends. ... I would not like there to be any eulogies at this service. I have been fortunate enough to have had many wonderful things said about me during my lifetime, and I’m so grateful to have been alive to hear them. I don’t want any more ... I would like the Beatitudes to be read by one of my family. This has included my life’s philosophy.”
Robert Arthur Hugh Kinch leaves his wife, Kathleen, his children Martin, Richard, Cynthia, Jenepher, Shelagh and Robin, his stepdaughters, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Special to The Globe and Mail