Obituary: Dr. Irving Kagan: World War II Hero, Renowned Scientist

Obituary: Dr. Irving Kagan: World War II Hero, Renowned Scientist

Dr. Irving G. Kagan died April 26, 2020.

Dr. Irving G. Kagan, 100, died of cardiac arrest April 26, 2020. He was born in the Bronx on June 1, 1919, during the Spanish Flu pandemic, and died during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. His beloved wife of 74 years, Mildred, died in 2014. She was the first social worker to establish a psychotherapy practice in Georgia. Together they were a dynamic loving force.

Dr. Kagan was a highly decorated World War II hero. He was a first lieutenant navigator of B-29s and flew 38 missions over Japan. As a result of his navigational skills, which kept his plane at the lead of many bombing missions over Japan and facilitated a heralded rescue of his crew from the Pacific, he was awarded a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal with five oak clusters.

Dr. Kagan received his undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College. After the war, he obtained a doctorate in zoology from the University of Michigan and did post-doctorate work at the University of Chicago. He was an Adjunct Professor of Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania for five years.

In 1957, he moved with his family to Atlanta to join the Centers for Disease Control, where he was appointed director of the parasitology division.
Dr. Kagan will be remembered as a world-renowned scientist, whose groundbreaking research led to the development of diagnostic and immunologic tests for malaria, schistosomiasis, and other parasitic diseases. In his 26-year tenure at the CDC, Dr. Kagan conducted extensive research and, together with a team of scientists and medical doctors working under him, published over 400 papers on parasitic diseases. He traveled widely as an ambassador of CDC and a consultant to the World Health Organization.

In 1975, he was a member of one of the earliest presidential scientific delegations from the CDC to China. Dr. Kagan also served on the faculty of the Emory University Medical School for 10 years.

His pioneering work in serologic immunology impacted the lives of millions of people around the globe. He received the American Society of Parasitologists’ Henry Baldwin Medal in 1976 and the CSL Behring award for his work on schistosomiasis in Egypt in 1977. He was vice president of the World Federation of Parasitologists (1976-1980) and president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine (1975-1977). He was also appointed as a charter member of the Senior Executive Service in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter.

In 1982, Dr. Kagan retired from the CDC and established his own laboratory, where he continued his scientific research, including on the newly emerging AIDS epidemic, and offered serologic testing to the medical community for malaria and other parasitic diseases. Dr. Kagan retired from his lifelong pursuit in 2017, at age 97.

He was both a humanitarian and a mentor of many young scientists in the epidemiology field. His interests were much broader than his chosen profession. He was a self-taught archaeologist with a specialty in Egyptology and an avid chess and tennis player. He was deeply interested in gardening, theology, astronomy, and Darwinism. He was a dedicated civil rights advocate and supporter of Jewish causes. His optimism and life force burned incandescent.

Dr. Kagan is survived by his family: Mila and Jule Kagan, Daniel Rosenbaum, and Arieh, Barbara, Alyssia and Liam Shands/Rosenbaum.

Contributions in Dr. Kagan’s memory may be made to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

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