Henry Lardy
Henry Lardy, in his UW-Madison lab, in this 1999 file photo.

Henry Lardy, a highly regarded emeritus professor of biochemistry at UW-Madison, died of complications due to cancer on Wednesday. He was 92.

"He was really one of the most outstanding people to ever work in our department," says Hector DeLuca, a longtime UW-Madison biochemistry professor who is a former student of Lardy's. "He was a very in-demand researcher and yet was so down-to-earth."

Lardy joined the faculty of the Institute for Enzyme Research in 1945 and spent his entire career on the UW-Madison campus. Although he had been an emeritus professor since 1988, he never truly retired and until a few months ago still spent significant time at his office and in the lab.

"He'd keep saying, ‘I just need 10 more minutes in my office,' " says DeLuca, who has considered Lardy a friend for more than 50 years.

Lardy published more than 500 scientific papers and trained more than 60 graduate students and 110 post-doctoral fellows in his lab.

"And I'd say 100 percent of them loved him," says Dr. Michael J. MacDonald, who is director of UW Health's children's diabetes program and is one of Lardy's many prominent former postdoctoral students.

Lardy's research over the decades touched on everything from artificial insemination in cattle and energy metabolism, to cancer in humans and sudden infant death syndrome.

During the past two decades, he focused much of his energy in "retirement" on researching DHEA, a natural steroid that plays a role in the conversion of cholesterol to both male and female sex hormones. Lardy told the Cap Times in 1999 that DHEA also has other promising characteristics: It stimulates the immune system, with obvious implications for AIDS patients; it causes weight loss in genetically obese animals; it reduces cholesterol; and it enhances the memory of elderly mice.

"He's touched a lot of different fields," says DeLuca.

Perhaps his most important contribution to science came as a graduate student in the lab of Paul Phillips at UW-Madison in 1939.  That's when Lardy discovered a mixture to preserve the vitality of sperm -- a discovery which made artificial insemination practical. This not only revolutionized livestock breeding but helped in the treatment of infertility in humans, said MacDonald.

Yet Lardy is noted for living a full life outside the lab as well. Not only is he being remembered as a solid tennis player and expert grouse hunter, but he wasn't afraid to let his political feelings be known, either.

In 1997 Lardy garnered local headlines for blasting the United States for failing to pay its United Nations dues. He then famously sent Secretary-General Kofi Annan a check for $12 "to cover my, and my wife's, share of the debt." Lardy, who worked for a host of Democratic candidates over the years, also was an outspoken critic of both Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s and later the Vietnam War.

He also was ahead of his time on social issues and helped champion the idea that sexual orientation is organically based, rather than a lifestyle choice.

"He was a great humanist as well as being a great scientist," says DeLuca.

When describing his core political values in an interview with the Cap Times in 1999, Lardy stated: "I grew up in South Dakota during a drought and the Great Depression combined, so I've seen kids starving to death, and I've seen livestock dying of starvation. I also feel that there's a certain fraction of the population that works very hard but isn't paid anywhere near satisfactorily -- I'm talking about the farmers and the laborers here.

"I can find absolutely no explanation, for instance, for the disparity of income between corporate CEOs and the people they hire."

Lardy was born in Roslyn, S.D., in 1917 and earned his undergraduate degree in 1939 from South Dakota State. He then earned his master's degree in 1941 and Ph.D. in 1943 from UW-Madison.

He won a number of prestigious awards over the years, including: the Paul Lewis Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1949; the Wolf Foundation Award in Agriculture in 1981; the National Award of Agricultural Excellence in 1982; and the William C. Rose Award from American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1988.

"I wish I could just download all the information in his brain," MacDonald told the Cap Times in 1999. "Whenever I have a question and I can't get an answer anywhere else, I phone Dr. Lardy."

"He was very sharp mentally right up until the end," MacDonald said in a phone interview Thursday.

Lardy is survived by his wife, Annrita, and four children.

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