F. William Sunderman, MD, PhD
F. William Sunderman, MD, PhD, the last surviving member of the first CAP Board
of Governors, died March 9. He was 104.
Dr. Sunderman, a CAP founding fellow, was a governor of the College from 1947
to 1948. In 1962 he was named CAP Pathologist of the Year, and in 1988 he received
the CAP/ASCP Distinguished Service Award. He was also a past president of the
American Society of Clinical Pathologists, now the American Society for Clinical
Until shortly before his death, Dr. Sunderman worked eight-hour days at Pennsylvania
Hospital, writing correspondence and working on charitable affairs and other
endeavors. Until age 100, he edited the Annals of Clinical and Laboratory
Science, the journal he founded 32 years ago. At age 100 he was honored
by the federal government as the nation’s oldest worker. “This man
was a giant,” says lifelong friend and colleague Irene Roeckel, MD, CAP
Dr. Roeckel remembers attending workshops organized by Dr. Sunderman in 1947
at a naval base medical center in Washington, DC. “There wasn’t
any other educational thing going that was hands-on work in laboratories,”
she says. Out of the workshops grew the Association of Clinical Scientists.
Dr. Sunderman was among the first to test the precision and accuracy of analytical
procedures in laboratories through quality control techniques
and proficiency testing. He founded and ran a laboratory proficiency testing
service for 36 years before turning it over to the ASCP in 1986. The inventor
of the Sunderman sugar tube, a glucose testing method, he is credited as one
of the first doctors to use insulin to bring a patient out of a diabetic coma.
Born in 1898—one year after the invention of aspirin—Dr. Sunderman
graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1923 and
received his PhD in research medicine from the university in 1929. During the
1930s, he directed the chemistry division of the university’s William
Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine.
During World War II, Dr. Sunderman worked on the Manhattan Project, investigating
the effects of nickel carbonyl, a highly toxic gas. He eventually developed
an antidote for nickel carbonyl poisoning—and tested it first on himself.
“I’d worked around the laboratory animals so much that I knew it
would work,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998.
After the war, Dr. Sunderman helped set up the medical department at Brookhaven
National Laboratory, served as medical consultant for the space project at the
United States Army’s Redstone Arsenal, and headed the clinical pathology
department of the Communicable Disease Center (now the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention) in Atlanta. The author of 16 scientific books and more than
300 papers, he taught in the medical schools of several universities, among
them Jefferson Medical College, Emory, Temple, the University of Texas, and
the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Sunderman was as active in his personal interests as he was in his profession.
During his recovery from tuberculosis in 1938, he discovered a talent for photography
and eventually took first prize in an Eastman Kodak photography contest. An
accomplished amateur musician and owner of a Stradivarius violin, he played
violin in a Carnegie Hall concert at age 100. The Sunderman Chamber Music Foundation,
which he established in 1983, continues to provide free concerts at his alma
mater, Gettysburg College. His autobiography, A Time to Remember, was
published in 1998.
Dr. Sunderman’s colleagues remember him as the organizer of biennial trips
to Bermuda for members of the Association of Clinical Scientists. “It
was a vacation, but we had lectures every evening and we had field trips with
scientists,” says ASC member Frederick Muschenheim, MD, former director
of laboratories at Oneida (NY) Healthcare Center. “He always brought his
violin and always saw to it that there were lots of jokes going around. He was
something of a raconteur himself.”
Dr. Sunderman’s first wife, Clara Louise Baily, died in 1972. They had
three children: F. William Sunderman Jr., MD, also a pathologist; Louise, who
died at age three; and Joel, who died at age 24. In 1980, Dr. Sunderman married
Martha Lee Biscoe, who died in 2000.
In addition to his son, Dr. Sunderman is survived by three grandchildren and