July 2, 2019

Former Pharmacology chair Hardman remembered as gifted scientist, educator, mentor

Joel Hardman, PhD, an internationally recognized scientist and educator who chaired the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine from 1975 to 1990, died June 30, 2019 in Hoosick Falls, New York, after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

Joel Hardman, PhD

Joel Hardman, PhD, an internationally recognized scientist and educator who chaired the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine from 1975 to 1990, died June 30 in Hoosick Falls, New York, after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

Dr. Hardman’s research helped reveal how hormones and neurotransmitters regulate cellular processes. As chair, he cultivated the department as a premier place for research and training in pharmacology nationally. He also was a gifted educator who nurtured the careers of numerous students and young faculty members.

“I was lucky enough to be a PhD student in the department while Dr. Hardman served as chair,” said Joey Barnett, PhD, vice chair of Pharmacology, director of the Office of Medical Student Research and assistant dean of Physician-Researcher Training.

“He set high standards for us and worked to provide opportunities and resources that enabled us to meet those standards,” Barnett said. “All the while he was approachable and supportive. Dr. Hardman’s commitment to mentoring shaped the training program that we have today.”

“There simply are not words to describe my gratitude to Joel Hardman for bringing me to Vanderbilt and continually mentoring me with exacting but supportive input,” said Lee Limbird, PhD, who joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1979 and who succeeded Dr. Hardman as chair of Pharmacology in 1991.

“I attribute the success of our laboratory and my growth as a teacher to Joel’s mentorship and advocacy,” said Limbird, who currently is professor of Biochemistry and dean of Graduate Studies at Nashville’s Fisk University. “There simply could not be a better mentor and boss.”

A native of Colbert, Georgia, Dr. Hardman earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Pharmacy from the University of Georgia and his PhD in Pharmacology from Emory University in 1964.

That year Dr. Hardman came to Vanderbilt to do post-doctoral work with Earl Sutherland, MD, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1971 for his discovery of cyclic AMP. In 1967 Dr. Hardman was named assistant professor of Physiology, and in 1972 he was promoted to full professor.

His identification of guanylate cyclase as the enzyme responsible for synthesizing cyclic GMP from GTP led to the appreciation that cGMP, like cAMP, can serve as an intracellular second messenger in cellular regulation.

Much of the fundamental knowledge of guanylate cyclase and cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases, which synthesize and degrade cyclic GMP, respectively, is a result of Dr. Hardman’s early research.

Dr. Hardman spent most of 1974 in Europe on a sabbatical in the department of Physiology at the University of Oxford and as a visiting professor at the Free University of Brussels. Shortly after he returned, he was asked to succeed Allan D. Bass, MD, as chair of Pharmacology.

His first faculty recruit, Peter Reed, PhD, later became the department’s director of Graduate Studies and associate dean of Vanderbilt University Graduate School.

For much of the 1990s Dr. Hardman served with Limbird as co-editor-in-chief of the standard reference work in pharmacology, Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. He also served as editor of the journal Molecular Pharmacology and as president of the American Society for Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASPET) from 1993-1994.

“The fact that two of his very few trainees, (the late) David Garbers, PhD, and Joseph Beavo, PhD, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences affirms Joel’s insistence on focusing on important problems with critical inquiry,” Limbird said.

“The department gained its outstanding reputation under Dr. Hardman’s leadership,” added Ege Kavalali, PhD, professor and acting chair of the Department of Pharmacology and the William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics. “We have a strong sense of responsibility to preserve and foster his legacy.”

Dr. Hardman was appointed associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs in 1991.

He strongly supported the creation of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program for students in their first year of graduate training in biomedical sciences in 1992, said Roger Chalkley, DPhil, senior associate dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training.

Also in 1992 the Joel G. Hardman Student-Invited Pharmacology Forum was established to recognize Dr. Hardman’s sustained interest in training young scientists. The annual forum covers topics ranging from gene therapy to America’s opioid epidemic.

Dr. Hardman is survived by his wife of 64 years, Georgette Hardman, of Shushan, New York; children Pam Hardman of Bellingham, Washington; Fran Goldstone (Jeff) of Cambridge, New York; Mary George Hardman of Troy, New York; Joel Hardman (Laurie Puchner) of Edwardsville, Illinois; and grandchildren Jacob Goldstone, Gregory Goldstone, Luke Puchner-Hardman, Maggie Puchner-Hardman, Emelissa Vandenbosch and Alice Hardman.

In honor of Dr. Hardman, donations may be given in support of the Joel G. Hardman Student-Invited Pharmacology Forum. Checks may be made out to Vanderbilt University with the words “Hardman Forum” in the memo line and sent to the Vanderbilt University Department of Pharmacology, 476 Robinson Research Building, Nashville, Tennessee 37232-6600.