Pediatrician was devoted to patients, community
Dr. James Kennedy Greenbaum died in his home in Kittanning on Thursday. He was 92.
Dr. Greenbaum was a physician who served his Western Pennsylvania patients for 57 years, first as a general practitioner, and then as a pediatrician. He cared for thousands of patients, and toward the end of his career, his patients included the grandchildren of babies he delivered in the 1950s.
His family said he dedicated his life to serving the children of Armstrong County, his community and his family.
Dr. Greenbaum was born and raised in Kittanning and was a graduate of Mercersburg Academy and Princeton University. After graduating from Princeton in 1942, he joined the war effort by serving in a clandestine operation that placed American civilians as managers in South American airports in an effort to keep the Panama Canal secure by denying landing rights to German and Japanese aircraft. He served from 1942 to 1944 as the manager of an airport in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa. After 18 months in Peru, he came to the conclusion that chasing llamas from the Arequipa airport runway was not contributing significantly to the allied war effort. He returned to the United States in 1944 and enlisted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps.
After the war, Dr. Greenbaum attended Harvard Medical School on the GI Bill. Upon completion of his medical residency, he returned to Kittanning in 1952 and established a general medical practice. He married Mary Shannon of Erie in 1948, and together they raised a family of six children. Mary passed away in 1995.
In 1960, Dr. Greenbaum became board certified in pediatrics, and he was the only pediatrician in Armstrong County from 1960 until 1982. During those years, aside from a rare vacation, he saw children in his office 5 ½ days a week, and he was on medical call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His typical day included hospital rounds at 6:45 a.m., office hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., two hours for exercise and dinner and then evening rounds at the hospital and house calls.
His sleep was frequently interrupted by emergency calls from what was then Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, where he assisted at every birth by Caesarean section.
Family members told how on evenings, at night and on weekends, the family phone rang constantly with urgent inquiries from parents of feverish infants and children. When the caller asked, “Is this Dr. Greenbaum?” his usual, weary reply was “Afraid so.”
In his free time, Dr. Greenbaum served as volunteer team physician for the Kittanning High School football and hockey teams, examining injured players and stitching lacerations on the sidelines. After office hours and on weekends and holidays, the kitchen table in the Greenbaum house on North Water Street in Kittanning served as the community “urgent care” center, with Dr. Greenbaum’s wife and children retrieving bandages and sutures to mend wounds suffered on the local playground. Dr. Greenbaum’s teenage children learned to drive by driving their father on house calls in the Armstrong County countryside.
Dr. Greenbaum volunteered for many community organizations and nonprofits, serving on the boards of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kittanning, the Armstrong County YMCA, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, the American Cancer Society, and countless other organizations. In 1969, disturbed by the images of children injured in the war in Vietnam, he volunteered to spend four months in South Vietnam providing medical care to children in Vietnamese hospitals and orphanages.
In 1982, Dr. Greenbaum attracted Harold “Hal” Altman, a native of Ford City, to join him in his practice in Kittanning. With Hal available to share medical call and office duties, in 1983, at the age of 62, Dr. Greenbaum was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by joining a team of American mountain climbers attempting to be the first climbers to conquer the East Face of Mt. Everest from Tibet. Dr. Greenbaum assisted the expedition by providing medical care to the climbers and carrying supplies to the advance base camp at an elevation of 20,000 feet.
When his medical practice grew to include additional physicians and practitioners, he used his newfound vacation time to travel to six continents.
Dr. Greenbaum practiced pediatrics until the age of 88, retiring in 2009. He received many accolades and awards during his lifetime of service, including Children’s Hospital’s Howard A. Mermelstein Award for Excellence in Pediatrics in 2001, and the Armstrong County Child Advocacy Award in 2012. In 2006, the nursery of the Armstrong County Memorial Hospital was dedicated in his honor. Through the years he mentored countless medical students and young physicians, encouraging many talented Armstrong County students to return home to serve their community.
Dr. Greenbaum was predeceased by his wife Mary, his brothers Robert and George, and by his grandson Thomas.
He is survived by his six children, Beth Lewis, of Boothbay, Maine; Sarah Hanniford of Carlisle; Lisa Coakley of Alexandria, Virginia; Ellen Barker of Jackman, Maine; James K. Greenbaum, Jr., of Mill Run; and John A. Greenbaum of Carlisle. Also surviving are 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His granddaughter Abby, his daughter-in-law Kim and his good friend and neighbor Mary Lu Bennett provided care to Dr. Greenbaum in the last years of what his family called “his very wonderful life.”