Cover photo for Kenneth  L. Brigham's Obituary
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1939 Kenneth 2022

Kenneth L. Brigham

October 29, 1939 — June 18, 2022


Kenneth (Ken) L. Brigham, pulmonologist, professor of medicine, researcher, author, avid traveler, doo-


wop one-hit-wonder, sometimes sailor, devoted father, and loving husband, passed away peacefully


from complications related to pancreatic cancer on Saturday, June 18, 2022, with his loving wife, Arlene


Stecenko, at his bedside.


 


Most people are either dog people or cat people, but Ken was both. He loved dogs and cats equally and


they loved him. This, perhaps, embodies the essence of his character; he was able to resolve


contradictions and embrace dichotomies in a way that made him both a scientist and an artist, a


mathematician and a wordsmith, a truthteller and a fiction writer, a teacher and a learner.


 


Born in Nashville, Tennessee on October 29, 1939 to Alvin Dixon Brigham and Josie May (Everett)


Brigham, Ken was raised in East Nashville on North 7th Street until the age of twelve when his father, a


city bus driver, and mother bought a farm in Scottsboro in rural Tennessee with a dream of returning to


life on the land. While this dream was cut short by the death of Ken’s father when Ken was still a


teenager, the experience of living on a farm taught Ken the value of hard work from a different


perspective than he had as a city boy, and taught him the breeds of cows so thoroughly that he was able


to identify them years later as he whizzed by them on the freeway. In 1958, Ken had a brief brush with


musical fame; he played guitar in the doowop group, The Crescendos. Their one hit single “Oh Julie”


rose to #4 on the U.S. Black Singles chart and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100.


 


Ken loved research and discovery. He prized working with others who shared his intellectual curiosity,


and he challenged himself throughout his career to make the world a better place. After graduating with


honors from medical school at Vanderbilt University, he was accepted into the internship program at


Johns Hopkins University and completed his residency there. In 1968, he was one of two residents


chosen to work in Calcutta, India treating cholera patients at the Johns Hopkins Center for Medical


Research and Training. From 1968 to 1971, Ken was based in Phoenix, Arizona, working for the US Public


Health Service; he researched and worked with disease outbreaks in multiple populations, including


dengue fever in Puerto Rico, tuberculosis in the Havasupai Nation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,


and diarrheal disease among the White Mountain Apache. He credits this time with helping him learn


much about best practices in medical research. After completing his stint in public health, Ken was


offered a fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco Cardiovascular Research Institute,


where he worked under the direction of renowned scientists Dr. Julius Comroe and Dr. Norman Staub.


Here Ken developed his expertise in lung disease, refined his research techniques, and honed his oral


and written communication skills.


 


In 1973, Ken returned to Vanderbilt University as a faculty member at the medical school  instead of a


student. He founded the University’s modern Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, building and


leading a team of brilliant and prolific researchers. Under Ken’s direction, the division was awarded a large SCOR


grant from the National Institute of Health on mechanisms of lung injury from 1976 through 1984.


 


In 2002, Ken left Vanderbilt for Emory University and helped found the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive


Health Institute and served as its Associate Vice President. He also held the titles of Professor and Vice


Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine; Associate Director for Research at the Emory


McKelvey Lung Transplantation Center; and Director of the Center for Translation Research in the Lung,


Division of Pulmonology.


 


Throughout his career, Ken served in numerous leadership roles at the National Institutes of Health. He


was president of the American Thoracic Society from 1989 to 1990.  He  edited three science books that have


become standards in pulmonary research and published over four hundred original works in scientific journals.


 


Of all the honorifics Ken achieved in his life, the one he was most proud of and most humbled by was his position as husband to Arlene Stecenko.  


Through their twenty-nine years of marriage, they challenged each other, bettered each other, and explored the unfathomable depths of true love and friendship with each day they had.    


 


Ken authored or co-authored four nonfiction books and five works of fiction. His nonfiction works


included “Predictive Health” and “The Good Doctor”, both of which were co-written with Michael M.E.


Johns, and “Hard Bargain: Cancer, A Love Story”, which told the story of his bout with prostate cancer in


his fifties. “Spotless” and “The Asolo Accords” were novels co-written with Neil Shulman. Ken wrote


“The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero” and the Shane Hadley Detective Series, “Deadly Science” and “Deadly Arts .”


His final work, a memoir titled “Free Dancing: Random Stories from an Accidental Life” was released in 2021.


 


Ken was a steadfast, thoughtful, and supportive husband, parent, and friend. He had a wry sense of


humor, a satirical wittiness, and a love of language. He was a tireless learner and a calm mentor. And he


pursued his passions throughout his lifetime-- unlocking the secrets of human biology to  better treat pulmonary disease and to predict  


factors for keeping healthy; telling remarkable stories that


incorporated his love of science and art; traveling the globe in search of the perfect blend of scotch and


sunsets; listening to his favorite operas; and spending time with his family and friends. Ken’s voice


resonated with gentleness, intelligence, knowledge, and honesty.


 


Now silenced, Ken is survived by his wife, Arlene Stecenko of Atlanta, Georgia; his daughter Heather


Brigham Tiffany (Joshua R. Tiffany) of Gray, Maine; his sister Elizabeth (Brigham) Hill of Nashville,


Tennessee, and her family; his niece Colleen (Johnson) Nelson of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and her


family; and his brother-in-law Richard Stecenko (Lorna Mayer) of Victoria, British Colombia. We miss him.


 


There will be no public funeral or memorial service for Ken as Ken and Arlene wish to have a joint memorial service when she dies. In lieu of flowers, please read a good book, enjoy a martini under a full moon, watch the swallows dance at dusk, or set sail on a side trip and see where it leads. If you wish to make donations, Arlene asks that you consider making one to support the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program at Emory in Ken’s name, since he helped Arlene enormously in establishing it. Tribute contributions may be made to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Emory/Children’s Cystic Fibrosis Program at www.choa.org/give.

Please select tribute gift if making an online gift. Checks may be sent to Greg Holliday, Senior Development Director, Principal Gifts, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation, 1575 Northeast Expressway, Atlanta, GA 30329.  Please note CF Fund 2022 in the note section of the check.


 


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