Honoring the Life of an Honored Teacher
‘He’s there, providing an opportunity.’
Kenneth Donald McClatchey (M.D. 1975, Residency 1978) — dentist, doctor, researcher and world-famous oral pathologist — grew up on an island in the Detroit River. What was there for a bright, curious young man to do on tiny Hickory Island? His wife, Marty McClatchey, laughs and says, “If you asked me, I’d say ‘I’m not sure,’ but if you asked Ken, he’d say there was muskrat trapping, duck hunting and fishing; there was hiking in the woods with sandwiches made from wild onions.”
That spirit of fun, adventure, optimism — and a resonant respect for the simple things in life — stayed with Kenneth McClatchey throughout his successful career as pathologist and family man. McClatchey earned his Bachelor of Science in 1964 and went on to study at the U-M School of Dentistry; Marty Kruger earned her bachelor’s degree in special education a year later. The two wed in 1968 after McClatchey finished dental school and Kruger earned a degree in social work.
McClatchey realized that dentistry was not going to be a fulfilling career for him but he kept at it, completing a graduate program in oral pathology at Michigan in the meantime. A mentor encouraged him to apply to medical school, but Harvard and Wayne State universities turned him down because he was an older student with a profession. Then came an acceptance from Michigan, where he entered the second-year Medical School class.
The McClatcheys’ love of children and Marty McClatchey’s work in the adoption field, specializing in hard-to-place kids, led them to adopt four children — Sean, Suki, Suni and Stephen — by the time Kenneth McClatchey finished his pathology residency in 1978. McClatchey took a staff position in pathology under the renowned A. James French, M.D. (Residency 1941), who became a treasured mentor. In 1982, he was named associate chair, overseeing clinical laboratories and teaching activities in the Department of Pathology. In 1988, he was named professor of pathology and of otolaryngology in the Medical School and of oral medicine/pathology in the School of Dentistry, as well as associate chief of clinical affairs in University Hospital.
As an expert in head and neck pathology, McClatchey helped patients and doctors with difficult diagnoses, but he truly loved teaching: nurturing, mentoring and stimulating the next generation of physicians and dentists, which he did for the next 25 years before becoming chair of the Department of Pathology at Loyola University in Chicago. The McClatcheys embraced their two-state status, taking turns traveling back and forth.
In 2003, Kenneth McClatchey was diagnosed with an endocrine tumor of the pancreas. After a surgical procedure to remove the tumor, doctors felt confident he could be treated with medication. But in December, routine blood work revealed a severe reaction to the medication, and he died quite suddenly at University Hospital just before Christmas.
Two years later, Marty McClatchey began thinking about a way to honor her husband’s life. “I remembered that medical school wasn’t easy for us, financially,” she says. “So I decided to do a scholarship. After the first scholarship was funded, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if there could be a scholarship every year!’ For always, there would be a medical student who has a little extra money because of this scholarship.”
In 2006, she established the Kenneth D. McClatchey Scholarship in the Medical School, and recently made another generous gift to support the fund. “He may not be there teaching but he’s there, providing an opportunity,” she says. —WHITLEY HILL