Kennedy, Robert Foster (1884–1952), neurologist, was born 7 February 1884 in Belfast, youngest son of five children of William Archer Kennedy, physician, and Hessie Foster Kennedy, daughter of Robert Foster Dill, professor of obstetrics at QCB. The family moved to Czestochowa, Poland, when Kennedy was still an infant, after his father secured a job managing a linen factory. His mother died of scarlet fever shortly after their arrival, and Kennedy was sent back to Ireland where he was raised reluctantly by Professor Dill. Educated at the Royal School in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, he studied medicine at QCB, graduating MD (1906). Moving to London, he became resident medical officer at the Hospital for the Paralysed and the Epileptic (later the National Hospital), Queen Square, under Sir William Gowers, a leading figure in neurology, and began to specialise in the study of cerebral tumours.
Unable to secure regular employment in Ireland or Britain, he accepted the position of chief of clinic at the Neurological Institute in New York, and in 1910 emigrated to the United States with his fiancée Isabel McCann. On arrival he also began teaching duties at Cornell University, and published a ground-breaking paper in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences (1911), ‘Retrobulbar neuritis as an exact diagnostic sign of certain tumours and abscesses of the frontal lobes’, which helped explain and define the syndrome (soon named after the author) where loss of vision was caused by optic atrophy. Although the findings of the paper were not as revolutionary as they appeared (similar observations had in fact been made by Gowers a couple of years previously) the ideas were clearly presented and quickly disseminated, and helped establish Kennedy as one of the leading neurologists in America.
On the outbreak of the first world war he volunteered, serving on the medical staff of the British and French armies, for which he was created a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. As a general casualty surgeon with first-hand experience of the trauma of war, he recognised the importance, in ‘shell shock’, of the mental conflict between duty and self-preservation.
In 1919 he became professor of neurology at Cornell University after having been made chief of the neurological division of Bellevue Hospital, the largest municipal hospital in New York. His international reputation secure, he became president of the American Neurological Association, and a leading, if somewhat eccentric, figure in New York society. After suffering a haemorrhage in 1938 his health declined. Soon after being diagnosed as having polyarteritis nodosa, he died 7 January 1952 at his Bellevue ward.
He married (1913) Isabel Stevenson McCann, daughter of a Belfast whiskey merchant; they had two daughters. In 1938 the marriage ended in divorce, and he married (1940) Katherine Caragol y San Abria, a medical student; they had one daughter.