College of American Pathologists
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In Memoriam
F. William Sunderman, MD, PhD


May 2003

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 Pathology.

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 emeritus fellow.

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 a great-granddaughter.