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A Class Connection

Two Members of the Class of ’72, Stuart Kassan, M.D., and Jay E. Katzen, M.D., Bond over Efforts to Support Their School

By Steve Goldstein

In 1972, the Watergate scandal consumed Washington, eventually leading to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. That same year, Jay E. Katzen and Stuart Kassan earned their medical degrees from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). Although Kassan and Katzen were little more than classmates back then, their lives would soon become intertwined through alumni efforts they undertook for the school. And both were set on their career paths by the chance to take outside electives while at GW.

Jay E. Katzen and Stuart Kassan
Jay E. Katzen and Stuart Kassan

Today the two are good friends who see each other surprisingly often, especially when you consider that Katzen practices ophthalmology in Alexandria, Va., and Kassan, a rheumatologist, lives in Denver. They each serve on the University’s board of trustees. The pair will play key roles in the University’s comprehensive campaign, which is in a planning/assessment phase with a tentative public launch in about two years.

Despite their roll-call alphabetical proximity, Kassan and Katzen took different roads to their current leadership positions in the GW community.

Kassan grew up in Westchester County in New York and earned his B.A. from Case Western Reserve University. He had family ties to GW; his father, the late Robert J. Kassan, graduated from the School of Medicine. Like his father, Kassan eventually went into rheumatology, but it wasn’t until he reached Foggy Bottom that Kassan chose his specialty.

“Immunology was exploding around that time and scientific interest was increasing while I was in med school,” Kassan recalls. “It was a very attractive area of study for me, and some of the best and brightest minds were going into immunology.”

In the spring of 1972, Kassan was selected for an elective in immunology at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health, a few miles away in Bethesda, Md. “My being a student at GW certainly [gave me] a leg up in being chosen for this honor as a result of GW’s relationship with the NIH scientists,” he says.

Kassan returned to do research at NIH after completing an internship and residency at Emory University. During a 1976–78 fellowship in rheumatic diseases at Cornell University, Kassan published a seminal paper on the treatment of Sjogren’s Syndrome, a complex rheumatic disease that typically affects multiple areas of the body. He moved to Colorado when he was offered an academic position to complement his private practice. He is the chief medical officer with RV Infusion Partners and has served as a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center since 1994.

Katzen is a local boy who earned his B.A. from GW and then applied to the medical school. “It wasn’t easy financially at the time, so it was better for me to go to a good local college that had a medical school,” he explains. As a result of some summer research he did with a local ophthalmologist after he graduated from college, Katzen chose his specialization. “I liked both the medical and surgical aspects of ophthalmology,” he says.

A fortunate turn of events occurred in Katzen’s senior year when he was selected for an elective course with the renowned Lorenz Zimmerman, M.D., then head of ophthalmic pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “It was a tremendous opportunity and I really learned eye pathology,” Katzen recalls. “I got to know Dr. Zimmerman, and his letters of recommendation helped me get my residency at the University Hospital in Baltimore. It was very hard to get a residency in ophthalmology, so being in D.C. really helped me.”

Katzen has been in private medical practice since 1976, and is currently an ophthalmologist at the Eye Center in Alexandria. Meanwhile, Katzen’s father, Cyrus, a dentist, had gotten into the real estate business and brokered important deals in the development of Tysons Corner and Crystal City. The elder Katzen gave $10 million to GW to establish the Dr. Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen Cancer Research Center in honor of his first wife, Sylvia, who was treated for cancer at GW and died in 1980. The Katzens are perhaps the largest legacy family in GW history. Six members of the family have attended GW, including four who earned medical degrees.

Now Katzen spends 30 percent of his time treating patients and 70 percent managing the real estate interests left to him by his late-father. When he isn’t working, he’s following an interest in cosmology, which led him to a treasured meeting at GW with theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Katzen and Kassan see each other regularly at the quarterly trustees meetings and at the summer retreat. Last June, the retreat was held in Williamsburg, Va. “Our wives made crab cakes together,” says Katzen. They will likely link up again in November in D.C. when Kassan is inducted as a master in the American College of Rheumatology.

And then, of course, there’s the Class of ’72 scholarship campaign to run.

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