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In memoriam: Dr. Hermes Kontos, former dean, VCU School of Medicine, and former CEO, VCU Health System Authority

Dr.  Hermes Kontos Dr. Hermes Kontos

Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health lost a trailblazer last weekend. Dr. Hermes Kontos, former dean of the VCU School of Medicine and former CEO of the VCU Health System Authority, passed away on December 5 at the age of 87.

Dr. Kontos played an integral role in strategically aligning the academic and clinical vision of the academic health system over his four decades in leadership roles. He began his career at VCU in 1960 as a junior assistant resident in internal medicine, and after completing his fellowship in cardiology, he earned his Ph.D in physiology in 1967. He quickly rose through the academic ranks at VCU, was promoted to full professor in 1972, and went on to serve as chairman of the cardiology division and acting chair of the departments of pathology and internal medicine. He later became dean of the VCU School of Medicine.

Dr. Kontos was appointed the first CEO of the VCU Health System (VCUHS) Authority, which combined MCV Hospitals and MCV Physicians under a single governance structure.

At the time of VCU Health’s creation, Kontos was serving as vice president of VCU Health Sciences. With the authority’s creation, both roles were combined into a single position —ensuring that the academic mission of VCU’s health sciences schools would be aligned with the clinical mission of the health system. Having shepherded the medical center through this historic process, Kontos stepped aside in 2002 and retired the following year.

“Dr. Kontos was a true gentleman and was exceptionally kind to me when I came to VCU nearly 13 years ago. He provided excellent advice that really helped put into context some of the complexities we faced at that time,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D, president of VCU and VCU Health System. “Dr. Kontos also helped shape many of the goals that I have in place today. He will be missed, and our hearts are with his family.” 

“Dr. Kontos’ legacy lives on through the work of the tens of thousands of health care professionals trained and the hundreds of thousands of patients whose lives have been saved or changed for the better thanks to his leadership,” said Art Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for health sciences at VCU and CEO for VCU Health System. “As the latest successor in the dual role that he created, he left huge shoes to fill that I vow to grow into every day.”

Born in Lefka, Cyprus, Kontos earned his medical degree from the School of Medicine of the University of Athens and his doctorate degree from MCV’s Department of Physiology. The Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building, 1217 E. Marshall Street, is named in his honor. 

“The university and School of Medicine have benefited tremendously from Dr. Kontos' decades-long leadership. His dedication to cardiology, to the mentorship of trainees and to the compassionate care of patients inspired many to pursue careers in cardiovascular care and in biomedical research,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president for medical affairs at VCU Health System. “Dr. Kontos’ influence will be enduring — through the field he advanced and through those he trained.”

Kontos was internationally recognized as a physician-scientist for his research in cerebrovascular physiology, and he published over 200 manuscripts and book chapters. Throughout his career, his work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, including a prestigious Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award in 1986 and again in 1993 to investigate the effects of brain injury on the microcirculation. Among his many accomplishments, Kontos received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association in 1996.

In his retirement, Kontos was an invaluable contributor to the Powhatan Free Clinic, seeing patients and continuing to teach his colleagues.

Greg Hundley, M.D., director of VCU Health Pauley Heart Center and chair of cardiology remembers Kontos from his years as a student in VCU School of Medicine. “I first met Dr. Kontos when I stumbled upon his office at Sanger Hall. I explained my interest in medicine and asked if I could work for him that summer. Dr. Kontos replied with, ‘I have the perfect project for you.’ Dr. Kontos was a gifted mentor and instilled a lifelong passion for research to hundreds of undergrads, medical and doctoral students, cardiology and neurosurgery fellows, as well as his colleagues. His contribution to cerebrovascular physiology continues to make a significant impact to our patients.”

Kontos was preceded in death by his wife, Nancy, who served as a nurse in obstetrics and gynecology at VCU, and is survived by his three sons: Michael (professor of medicine/cardiology and medical director of the coronary intensive care unit at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center), Timothy (associate athletic director for sports performance & student athlete wellness at VCU) and Chris (professor of medicine/cardiology and director of the medical scientist training program at Duke University).

A celebration of life will be held January 8, 2022, at Woody Funeral Home, 1020 Huguenot Rd., Midlothian, Va.