Johnny Kuhr pictured at the 2003 WCPT General Meeting with Elisabeth Haase (left) and Nina Holton.

Tributes paid to Johnny Kuhr

Tributes have been paid to Johnny Kuhr, the WCPT Executive Committee member who died in late July aged 56. He was President of the Association of Danish Physiotherapists between 2000 and 2012, and was a champion of professional development and evidence based practice throughout his career. 

Johnny Kuhr was instrumental in establishing the first physical therapy research unit in Denmark and its first Masters programme in physical therapy. He fought nationally for rates of pay that reflected the profession’s expertise.

His contribution on an international level has been praised by WCPT representatives. WCPT President, Marilyn Moffat, paid tribute to the thoughtful analysis he brought to WCPT discussions, and his acute awareness of the difficulties experienced in countries challenged by lack of resources. “Johnny was a listener, a thinker and a gentleman in its truest sense. His presence will be missed by all of us whose lives he touched. Professionally, he served physical therapy in his home country and in the world with honour and distinction. I will miss his sage advice and friendship.”

WCPT’s Vice President Emma Stokes, who worked with Johnny though the Confederation’s European Region as well on the WCPT Executive Commitee said: 

“For over a decade, Johnny brought clarity to discussions about physical therapy in the European Region. His observations on issues beyond Denmark and Scandinavia were always measured and insightful, and he was keen to share the positive aspects of the country he knew best. He continued as an active member of the WCPT Executive Committee even as he fought the challenges of his brain tumour, right until the end.” He attended the WCPT Executive Committee meeting in March this year.

She added: “His warm and engaging nature made collaboration easy. He was a consummate politician, a persuasive advocate, a great networker and a dear friend. I will miss his fun, his guidance, his company.”

Representatives from WCPT member organisations in Africa feel they have particular reason to be grateful for Johnny’s commitment to global physical therapy. He was one of the people behind the association’s twinning arrangements with the physical therapy associations in Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

“He will always be remembered for his passion about the growth of the profession in the Africa Region,” said Dorcas Madzivire of the Zimbabwe Physiotherapy Association. “We benefited a lot from the twinning arrangement. He was my pillar of strength when I was the Chair of WCPT Africa Region.”

Esther Munalula Nkandu of the Zambia Society of Physiotherapy explained how Johnny founded an exchange project supporting services for people with HIV and the training of physical therapists in palliative care within Zambia: “Many lives have been changed as a result of this,” she said. 

“We have benefited greatly from the twinning that Zambia has had with the Danish association, and more so from the personal input of Johnny Kuhr. While we mourn Johnny, we celebrate the great man that he was and the great things he accomplished in physiotherapy.”

WCPT’s European Region benefited greatly from his expertise, according to Sarah Bazin, Chair of the region. “Johnny was always a strong advocate for developing international relations within the profession,” she said.  “He was a wise counsellor with a great depth of experience both in the practice and management of the physical therapy profession at the highest level.  He was respected and liked by all who had the pleasure of meeting and working with him.”

Johnny was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011 and the following year stepped down from the Presidency of the Danish Physiotherapy Association to cut down his commitments. Tina Lambrecht, current President of the Danish association, points out that he did so knowing that he had left the profession very different than when elected in 2000. 

“From the start, he had new and visionary ambitions for the profession,” she said. “In his eyes, to gain recognition and better pay, physiotherapy had to prove its value through research and evidence based practice.”

“His ceaseless focus on professional development has created a solid base for physiotherapy that will strengthen its position for many years ahead.”

The successful Masters programme he helped create at the University of Southern Denmark has inspired another two Danish universities to propose similar programmes this year. “Despite his illness Johnny was there to greet the first physiotherapists with a Danish Masters degree in 2013,” said Tina Lambrecht. “When matters were close to his physiotherapy heart nothing could stop Johnny Kuhr.”

This was certainly the case when it came to fighting for better salaries and better work conditions. Tina Lambrecht recalls how indignant Johnny was when politicians would not pay PTs the amount their professional competencies entitled them to, and was a leading figure in a week-long national dispute in 2008.

“Johnny Kuhr was not only an outstanding President for our association. He was also an excellent businessman and a pioneer in the area of combining business and professional development. His private clinic was among the first to establish exercise facilities and develop the concept of combining treatment and exercise.  Today exercise is so fundamental in physiotherapy that almost every clinic has exercise facilities.”

“‘Exercise is the best medicine’ was a message that Johnny repeated over and over again. Unfortunately, at the end, even he had to realise that there are times when exercise just is not enough.”

One of Johnny’s closest friends was physiotherapist Hans Lund, Associate Professor at the Institute of Sports Science at the University of Southern Denmark. He praised Johnny’s contribution not only to education and evidence based practice, but to establishing a national conference for physiotherapists in Denmark and strengthening the professional body. 

He said: “As the former Dean from the Faculty of Health at the University of Southern Denmark put it: Johnny was able to give the Danish Physiotherapy Association much more influence than the mere number of its members might suggest.”

“As a friend he was open-minded, warm, empathic and had a keen sense of humor. He was easy to talk to and a very good listener. He was maybe my very best friend throughout my entire life. One of the physiotherapists who rehabilitated him following brain surgery and the stroke that followed it wrote to me when Johnny died. He said: I surely understand your grief because if I – who hardly knew him – am so sad, how must you feel?”

Johnny Kuhr leaves his wife Lene and three daughters.