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Inventor dead at 95 after getting Covid-19 in nursing home

Francis A. Kennedy’s habitual tinkering led to inventing a telephone caller ID device in the 1970s and a patented insulated concrete block that’s been used in more than 200 commercial buildings in the Northeast.

Kennedy never formally studied engineering, but he enjoyed reading about inventions and thinking up ideas for products that might be an improvement over what was available.

“The dream of his was always to do something to leave his mark,” said his daughter, Kathleen Campbell.

The 95-year-old Korean War veteran died May 10 of Covid-19 at Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns, his daughter said.

When Kennedy’s family noticed him struggling with dementia, he moved about 10 months ago into the nursing home in the Town of Tonawanda.

Campbell said the nursing home first notified her around Easter that Kennedy had Covid-19 symptoms, including a low-grade fever and pink eye. The nursing home was unable to test him at the time, because it didn’t have access to tests, so Kennedy was quarantined in his room, and his condition improved, according to his daughter.

“He was fine, and then all of a sudden it just reared its head,” she said. “It just took him over. His lungs were clear. His heart was good, and his kidneys were fine. But his oxygen level on his blood just dropped drastically. So, they had oxygen on him, but he had no energy. He couldn’t even eat and drink anymore.”

The nursing home eventually confirmed Kennedy had Covid-19, said Campbell.

The day before he died, a hospice nurse put the phone up to Kennedy’s ear, so Campbell could tell him how much she loved him and that it was OK to go and be with his wife of 70 years, Jacqueline, who died in 2018.

The nurse told Campbell that her dad moved, a sign that he had heard her.

Through Wednesday, eight residents have died at Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns in confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases, according to the state Department of Health.

Born in Pittston, Pa., Kennedy attended high school in Sayre, Pa., and ran away from home at 16 to fight in World War II. When the military learned his real age, Kennedy was honorably discharged.

After finishing high school, he joined the Army again and worked stateside as an airplane mechanic. He studied history and theology at St. Bonaventure University, but left before earning a degree.

He returned to the military and served as an artillery spotter on 156 forward observer air missions in the Korean War. He also directed artillery fire during the war. He survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

Kennedy held numerous jobs, including sales with the liquor distributor Eber Brothers, at Bethlehem Steel, at the General Motors plant in the Town of Tonawanda and at a Buffalo railroad company.

Kennedy invented his Instatrace caller ID device in the 1970s and he and a partner, Wayne Baldridge, formed a company called Sci Tech to market it. Popular Mechanics magazine in 1978 hailed the device as technology that “would virtually eliminate nuisance calls.”

But Campbell said AT&T Corp., which controlled the phone industry, refused to buy the technology and waited until Kennedy’s patent ran out to replicate it.

Kennedy also created a prototype for an illuminated walking stick that blind people could use at night to make themselves more visible to drivers, said Campbell.

Years later, he invented an insulated block system in the basement of his Williamsville home by sandwiching a piece of insulating foam between two slabs of concrete. He received his first patent for the insulated block in 1992 and started Niagara Regional Group, or NRG, to market and sell it.

“He was lifting those 66-pound blocks up until he was almost 90 years old,” said Marty Walters, a friend and general manager of NRG.

The wall systems have been used in more than 200 buildings, including a handful in Western New York and many in Manhattan and New Jersey, said Walters. The buildings include dormitories, schools and big-box retail facilities.

“His ethos really was he just wanted to leave the world a little bit better place than when he found it,” said Walters.

Predeceased by his wife and a son, Patrick, Kennedy is survived by three daughters, Kathleen Campbell, Mary Lou Schultz and Jacqueline Rindfleisch; nine sons, Michael, Daniel, Thomas, Kevin, Robert, Sean, Mark, Timothy and John; 38 grandchildren; 38 great-grandchildren; and a great-great grandchild.

The Buffalo News is publishing stories about people from Buffalo Niagara who have died due to Covid-19. Please contact The News at citydesk@buffnews.com if you know of someone whose story we should tell.

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