December, 1931 – July 27, 2021 Veteran surgeon Ken Sax died in the early hours of July 27, 2021, his towering 89-year-old frame quietly succumbing to vascular dementia in his peaceful Rancho Palos Verdes home after a protracted battle. Dr. Sax was surrounded by family and his beloved dog Charlie until his last breath. The void all seven Sax children, their spouses, and Ken’s 13 grandchildren feel in their hearts is at least partially mitigated by their eternal gratitude to him. Kenneth Martin Sax was born in Eureka, Utah, to photographic painter Beatrice Jones Sax and railroad man Erwin Peter Sax. Ken fondly recalled his Salt Lake City childhood with beloved older siblings Elanne and Bob and his large and loving clan of cousins, aunts and uncles. He graduated University of Utah with a degree in meteorology, then joined the Navy and served as an officer on the attack transport vessel USS George Clymer. During his time in the Navy a prescient shipmate convinced young Ken to consider a career in medicine. He went on to study medicine at Temple Medical School, an august feat perhaps eclipsed by his meeting there of wife-to-be Barbara Louise Stiefbold. The physician couple married in 1960, completed their residencies, and moved their growing family west to southern California in 1968. For 29 years, Dr. Sax practiced surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Harbor City, first specializing in pediatric operations, then going on to general surgery. He is equally well remembered for his warm greetings of hospital staff and patients encountered while padding clinic halls between surgical procedures. A patient saved was a loyal friend for life, and ex-patients continued to bring Ken holiday delicacies and other gifts for decades after their operations. Ken was a longtime member of St. John Fisher Catholic Church, where he attended daily Mass and served for a time as eucharistic minister and lector. His lifelong devotion to Catholicism did not preclude a search for existential answers in Eastern traditions and philosophies, and he and Barbara enjoyed conferences and holistic retreats at Esalen and Ojai. While Ken’s surgical career no doubt involved daunting workloads and stress levels to match its obvious rewards, he was never too busy to indulge his raucous, burgeoning brood of large, loud, hungry, active children. At the helm of a van somehow carrying nine people, the odd Great Dane, and enough camping gear and food to supply this small army, Ken with co-captain Barbara spearheaded driving trips to campgrounds, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the beach, and what seems to have been every National Park in the Western United States. After the kids were grown, he treated the entire extended family to memorable Alaskan and Caribbean cruises. Ken maintained his imposing six-foot, six-inch constitution in retirement with daily post-Mass trips to the gym where he enjoyed water aerobics and other fitness classes. He also derived great joy from his canine friends and over the years took in or rescued at least ten of these special companions. Later in his life he loved to meet up with a group of good friends at Hesse Park and always brought with him his charismatic dog Charlie, who inspired a fan club of his own. His final few years were made much more comfortable by very attentive and compassionate professional caregivers. Ken and Barbara instilled in their diverse children a common value system based on hard work, kindness, and love. Their 50-year experiment in warmth and common decency, expertly imparted to their kids, is their most enduring legacy. Ken’s children are too grateful to him for words to convey. Ken is survived by his children Heather, Ken, Kim, Kristin, Steve, Kevin, and Keith. Their father was hardworking, intelligent, accomplished, fair, caring, friendly, and funny. He could be restless, taciturn, aloof, inscrutable, and a reluctant conversationalist at times, but he was always polite, always generous, always happy to see his children, and perhaps more than anything always ready, willing, and able to help his fellow human being. He is greatly missed. Balanced by fond gratitude though it is, that void in our hearts looms large. The funeral Mass for Dr. Kenneth Sax will be held Thursday, September 23rd at 11:00 am. at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Rancho Palos Verdes. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Doctors Without Borders or to an animal rescue charity of your choice. Green Hills Mortuary & Memorial Chapel – Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. 310-340-6510
Published by Daily Breeze on Sep. 11, 2021.