KHERA email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-13 published
Dr. Kundan S. KHERA
Research scientist, toxicologist, husband, father, golfer and writer. Born May 12, 1922, in East Punjab, India. Died April 1, 2005, in Ottawa, of heart attack, aged 80.
Clyde SANGER - page A20
When Kundan KHERA completed his memoirs at the age of 80, some Friends objected to the title, A Life of struggles. They mentioned his scientific honours. You should call them, they said, Success After a Life of struggles. But, out of devotion to the truth rather than any bitterness, he stuck to his choice.
There were times when, but for his sense of discipline, he came close to despair. In June, 1958, he returned to the Punjab from France with his doctorate from the Sorbonne and with high hopes of an immediate professor's post and plans to develop a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. Instead, he was told to wait for word of an appointment.
Daily for two months he walked his father's six cows through deep mud to the well in Kot Khera, the village where he was born and where 12 family members -including his own six children - were then surviving on his father's meagre pension.
Eventually, he took work as a poorly paid instructor in pathology at the Punjab Veterinary College. His career was stalled by a hostile director, who rejected his journal article on lumbar paralysis in sheep (akin to mad-cow disease), and he had to bargain his way to professor level by promising to refuse a senior post offered him in Nigeria.
Kun followed a family tradition of struggle and, as others saw it, insubordination. His father Kesar SINGH fought for the British in Mesopotamia and survived the five-month Turkish siege of Kut, and later imprisonment. But, after qualifying as a veterinary officer, he was passed over for promotion because he opposed the taking of bribes.
By 1962, Kun had tired of the bureaucracy haunting his career in India. A year's fellowship in Texas led to work in Ottawa as a pathologist in the Food and Drug Directorate. His 28 years in Health Canada were so productive that in 1988 the Society of Toxicology gave him the Arnold J. Lehmann Award for scientific excellence, and an American book listed him among its "2,000 Outstanding Scientists of the 20th Century."
His major work was in reproductive toxicity. Arriving at Health Canada just after the thalidomide disaster, his research challenged the widely held view that a mother simply channelled a toxic chemical through the placenta to the embryo or fetus. His work, originally on mice, showed that a vast majority of chemicals, if taken in large doses, first caused toxic effects in the mother or placenta, and could account for many fetal malformations. He struggled for 10 years to get his "outlandish" theory of maternal toxicity accepted, at length triumphing at a 1986 conference of the European Teratology Society. The drug industry took swift note, and regulatory agencies revised their methods of assessing human safety.
Kun had been betrothed to Rajinder at 11 and married at 15. Although they often lived at a distance, he was a caring husband and father to their four daughters and two sons, sent much of his salary back to them in India and rejoiced when his children emigrated to Ohio. They divorced in 1971, and soon after Kun met and married Claire PAULIN. Their years together, on the farm they owned near Prescott, Ontario, or on the golf courses in Ottawa, were clearly the happiest and most tranquil of his life. Every photograph shows him smiling.
Movingly, Claire's daughter Roxanne told at Kun's funeral how her stepfather had inspired her to study and to persevere. His sons, Jag and Autar, both industrial engineers, were also testament to his example. Success after a life of struggles, indeed.
Clyde SANGER is a family friend.
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