John Keshishian ’46 has lived the life of a Renaissance man. Having retired from active cardiopulmonary surgery 17 years ago at the age of 70, Keshishian still holds the rank of clinical professor of surgery at the George Washington School of Medicine and adjunct professor of surgery at USUSH, the military medical school in Bethesda, Md. He had the honor of serving as consultant to the White House under presidents Nixon and Reagan and was a member of the team of surgeons that attended President Reagan after his 1980 assassination attempt. His multi-faceted career also includes stints as a photographer for National Geographic, a broadcaster for the radio production and distribution service Blue Network (a pre-cursor to NBC) and the author of three novels, all thrillers.
Clearly, life has inspired some fiction. Keshishian says his work with National Geographic sparked his latest novel. “When I went to Vietnam as a civilian consultant in 1959, Dr. Melville Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society asked me to photograph everything I saw,” he says. “The magazine folks gave me lessons, a camera and film.” Instantly, Keshishian became a young staff photographer. With the rigors of his time in the Navy during WWII behind him, he had the background to explore the some of the planet’s most extreme venues.
He not only wrote about and photographed Vietnam during a tumultuous era but also used his skills, which include aviation, to travel the larger world. Before his medical career, Keshishian globe-trotted as a lecturer, consultant, examiner and FAA inspector. In the meantime, his photographs of Egypt, Abu Simbel, Russia, Samarkand and Uzbekistan appeared in National Geographic. One of his best-known articles, published in the early 1980s, examined the Burmese “long-neck” women. Concurrently, he became a writer for the World Book Science News, documenting the Dead Sea Scrolls and Mayan archeology. One of his novels, The Mayan Shard Caper, published in 2006 by Inkwater Press, reprised this interest in pre-Columbian antiquities.
Keshishian continues work rooted in decades of diverse experience. During a meditative moment in his medical career, he became interested in rhododendrons and azaleas, flowers he still photographs and explores in writing. He was indoctrinated into azalea culture at the Glenn Dale Plant Introduction Station in Maryland and later became a collaborator for the group at the National Arboretum. Additionally, he has introduced and named the “Henry Allanson” azalea after an early mentor, and over the years garnered an impressive number of ribbons for his hybrids. — Maria Jacketti