UF ceremony honors inventor of Gatorade

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 1:15 a.m.
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Robert Cade listens to remarks during a ceremony for the unveiling of his portrait at the Harn Museum on Thursday. Cade is the man who invented Gatorade, the first sports drink and a product that would eventually bring in nearly $88 million in royalties to the University of Florida.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
It was a night of celebration at the Harn Museum on Thursday as about 300 colleagues, friends and family of Dr. Robert Cade gathered to salute the man who invented Gatorade.
As Dr. Donald Seldin, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and one of Cade's former instructors, told the audience, the evening was "a genuine tribute to academic collegiality."
It included the unveiling of a portrait of Cade that will hang in the University of Florida College of Medicine's Division of Nephrology.
Cade credits Seldin with steering him away from a budding career in pulmonary medicine to something a little bit closer to the kidneys: nephrology, or renal medicine.
Earlier in the day, the 92-year-old Seldin had delivered the first J. Robert Cade grand rounds lecture at the University of Florida's College of Medicine.
But the stories he related to the gathering told of a quirky, original young Cade that Seldin first met as a medical student in 1952 when Seldin himself headed the fledgling University of Texas Southwestern medical school.
"He seems to flit here and there, but that would be a mistaken assumption," Seldin said of his former student. There was nothing quirky about Cade's development of the first sports drink, a product that eventually would bring in nearly $88 million in royalties to UF.
"His idea was innovative, sensible and based on a deep understanding of basic human physiology," Seldin said.
Of course stories about Gatorade abounded.
Former head football coach Ray Graves stepped to the microphone to describe how a very persistent Cade kept after him to test an early version of his sports drink on Gator players, assuring him that it contained carbohydrates and electrolytes that would replenish what was being sweated off on the field.
"I was always open to anything that would help the Gators," Graves recalled. "So I told him I was willing to let him try it with the freshmen on the B team."
Cade himself recalled the first game where he got to try his concoction on the first-string players. It was 1965, and the Gators were locked in a hard-fought battle with Louisiana State University, played in 102-degree heat.
He said he delivered a cup to a stocky lineman, who took two sips, then poured the rest on his head. "It tastes like piss!" Cade said guard Larry Gagner told him.
A grinning Gagner, now grey-haired, watched from the audience, knowing what was coming.
Cade related how, determined to get the formula right, he went back to the lab.
"I wee-weed in a cup, dipped a finger in, and gave it a taste. My stuff wasn't that bad!"
The Gators continued to serve as Gatorade guinea pigs for the rest of the 1965 season. That was the year they earned a reputation as "the second-half team" for outplaying all their opponents in the second half.
The real test came when the Gators met Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1967. Led by Heisman quarterback Steve Spurrier and sophomore halfback Larry Smith, the team mounted a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Yellow Jackets 27-12. Smith's 94-year touchdown run set an Orange Bowl record.
After the game, Graves related, Tech head coach Bobby Dodd told him, "We didn't have Gatorade. That made the difference."
Gatorade is now owned by Pepsico and is the top-selling brand of sports drink in the world.
Although his best-known invention may be Gatorade, Cade has turned his inventive mind to other things as well. Hoppin' Gator beer was loaded with electrolytes to stave off a hangover. Gator Go was a milk-based high protein drink. There was the hydraulic football helmet that Cade tested by whacking his (helmeted) head with a baseball bat.
Dr. Craig Tisher, dean of the College of Medicine, described Cade as a "triple-threat player," who is a role model as a clinician, a creative scientist and an educator.
Cade came to Gainesville in 1961 as an assistant professor of medicine, eventually rising to become professor and chief of the renal division between 1971 and 1978.
A tireless investigator, Cade still has a lab and attends weekly grand rounds in internal medicine.
Among his other loves are the violin, which he has played since childhood, and Studebakers, which he collects and restores.
Tisher said he'd heard stories of Cade playing the role of street musician in the early days of the College of Medicine - taking his violin down to the Primrose Inn with a tin cup and asking for donations for the renal division.
He also cited the physician and researcher for always giving generously of his own good fortune.
Seldin, whom Cade described as "my friend, my mentor, my ideal," recounted how Cade left the University of Texas to study renal medicine with Dr. Robert Pitts at Cornell.
"Years later Bob Cade ennobled both the University of Florida and himself when he provided the money, the space and the working environment to allow Pitts (then over 70 and ill) to continue to contribute to science here," Seldin said.
It was not Seldin's "flitting" pupil but a frail Robert Cade who moved to the podium with the aid of a walker to acknowledge the tributes.
He spoke of his Navy days - days spent in a bunk aboard a submarine running at periscope depth, where he read Alfred Tennyson's "Ulysses" to pass the time.
That story came back to him now, he said, as he remembered Ulysses as an old man, thinking about how he had come to gain fame and stature, and of all the exciting things he had done in life.
His voice breaking and holding back tears, Cade quoted Tennyson: "I am a part of all that I have met. . . ."
He concluded to a standing ovation, saying, "I really believe that I am part of everything I have met and every one of you that I have walked shoulder-to-shoulder with at some point. I am not the Bob Cade that I was yesterday, because of the experience I've had here tonight."
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com.

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