In Memoriam: Clarence C. Lushbaugh


This article is reproduced from: RADIATION RESEARCH 155, 51 1-513 (2001) 0033-7587/01, 2001 by Radiation Research Society. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

Dr. Clarence C. Lushbaugh, former chairman of the Medical Division at Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and a founding member of the Radiation Research Society, died on October 13, 2000 from Alzheimer's disease. He was 84 years old.

Dr. Lushbaugh, or Lush as he preferred to be called, was born in Covington, KY on March 15, 1916. Lush's father died during the influenza epidemic of 1918, and he was raised by his widowed mother. His early life seems unremarkable except for his excellent scholarship and his avid interest in scouting. He spent at least one summer living with a relative in the Florida Keys and another as a general handyman at a dude ranch in Colorado.

Lush took his undergraduate work at the University of Chicago and was admitted to medical school at that university. After taking his preclinical courses, he entered the PhD program in pathology. Upon graduation, he was appointed to the faculty in pathology where he continued his research and teaching duties. I first met him when I was a medical student and he was an instructor in 1944. His PhD thesis was on the effect of alcohol on the resistance of rabbits to pneumococcus pneumonia. This subject seems esoteric today, but in the days before antibiotic therapy, it was of considerable practical interest.

He was promoted from the rank of instructor to assistant professor and became the pathologist to the University's Toxicology Laboratory. Their lab was conducting studies of chemical warfare agents for the Army during World War II. It was while he was studying the histological changes produced in experimental animals exposed to the nitrogen mustards that Lush was struck by the similarity to changes produced by ionizing radiation. It occurred to him that these agents might be useful as chemotherapeutic agents in cases of cancer. He tried unsuccessfully to interest various clinicians and finally found the hematologists receptive to the idea. Today's field of cancer chemotherapy evolved from there. Lush realized that without the M.D. degree, he was at a disadvantage in the application of basic research to clinical practice, and he re-enrolled in the University's medical school, obtaining his M.D. in 1948.

It was also during this period that he and his colleague, Paul Steiner, were the first to describe a previously unrecognized disease, amniotic fluid embolism, as a complication of pregnancy. Many years later, the original paper describing this disease was republished by the Journal of the American Medical Association as a landmark paper. I worked part-time in Lush's laboratory while I was in medical school and returned full-time as a Fellow after my internship. We worked vigorously and with great enthusiasm on a variety of research projects. In fact, our enthusiasm was so great that one day the department chairman discovered that we had taken over all the department's animal rooms except one and had also occupied an animal room that belonged to the Department of Surgery. We rapidly retrenched.

In 1949, Lush left Chicago to become pathologist at the Los Alamos Medical Center in New Mexico and a staff member in the Biomedical Research Group of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. His research interest shifted to the problem of radiation dermatitis in humans and experimental animals, and he focused much of his attention on biochemical changes in irradiated skin. He also became involved in the study of radiation accident victims. This interest continued throughout his career, and he became recognized internationally as an authority on the subject. He was involved not only in the investigation of radiation accidents in the United States, but also cases in Brazil, El Salvador and the Soviet Union.

Life was never dull with Lush around. I joined the Los Alamos Lab in 1950, and on my first day on the job, we were called to Santa Fe to autopsy a case of bubonic plague. It was the first and only case I have ever seen. Lush was the Assistant District Health Officer for Los Alamos County, and it was in this position that he sharpened his skills in forensic pathology. He studied the rate of body cooling to use in estimating the time of death and published a report of his findings in a law-enforcement trade publication. I believe it was the author Erie Stanley Gardner who cited this method in one of his novels as the "Lushbaugh Method" of estimating time of death. Lush also solved the perplexing case of two bodies, each with three bullet holes, but only two shots had been fired.

Together we erected a stable to maintain a string of horses. With his three children and our four, all of whom were avid horsemen, we collected a large string. Lush was interested in quarter horses and gained quite a reputation as a trader. I don't believe he ever sold anyone a blind horse, but he did sell one sharp trader a horse that died the next day.

Lush maintained his interest in the Boy Scouts, and we were both recognized as "den mothers" to a group of Cub Scouts. All the kids wanted to be in Lush's den because they were always doing interesting things instead of the activities recommended by the Scout hierarchy.

Lush's marriage to Mary Helen Chism ended in divorce, and in 1963 he relocated to the Oak Ridge Associated Universities as Chief Scientist in the Medical Division. He served as Chairman of the division from 1975 to 1984. During this period, he played a major role in establishing ORAU's Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/ TS) and its Center for Epidemiologic Research (CER). He served as the first director of REAC/TS and of the International Collaborating Center in Radiopathology and Radiation Accident Preparedness (Western Hemisphere Unit), Pan American Health Organization, when REAC/TS was so designated by the World Health Organization. Lush also served as acting director of CER during the early 1980s, and was an adjunct professor in epidemiology and a member of the graduate faculty of the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Lush retired in 1990.

A perusal of his bibliography from his ORAU days indicates a remarkable breadth of research interests and collaboration with people from very diverse disciplines. Throughout, however, there is discernible a continuing interest in the effects of accidental or therapeutic radiation exposure in human subjects. This interest carried over into the study of experimental animals as well.

Lush authored or co-authored over 150 scientific papers and book chapters. He was a member of multiple advisory groups both nationally and internationally. He served governmental agencies, universities and industry. Lush was awarded the Health Physics Society's Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award and the Landauer Award of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. His advice and counsel will be missed.

In 1963, Lush married Dorothy Bess Hale, and they happily spent the next 37 years together. Lush was remarkably talented. He was a first-rate artist and showed some of his works in a Santa Fe art gallery. He was an excellent chess player and had an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals. He and Dorothy constructed a greenhouse where they raised orchids. After a trip to Japan, they converted their back yard to a classic Japanese garden. They next undertook working with stained glass to produce lampshades and wall hangings. Their crowning achievement was the large stained-glass window which was installed in ORAU's new Center for Epidemiologic Research. Only in music did Lush's talent fall short. When our little group would gather to strum ukuleles and a banjo and sing the old songs, we always tried to get Lush to play the kazoo. However, he always insisted on playing the gut bucket, an inverted washtub with a nylon rope and a broomstick. What he lacked in musical talent he made up for in enthusiasm.

Lush's wife Dorothy died on December 10, 2000. He is survived by sons William and Robert, daughter Nancy, and five grandchildren.

He was always somewhat of a nonconformist and early on decided that he would always observe Friday the thirteenth as a personal holiday. He called it "Pogo Day" after the cartoon character of Walt Kelly. It is perhaps appropriate that Lush died on Pogo Day, Friday, October 13.

John B. Storer
Rockwood, Tennessee