January 30, 1998

Multiple missions mark Hardman’s long VUMC career

Multiple missions mark Hardman's long VUMC career

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For more than three decades, Joel Hardman, Ph.D., was a familiar presence at VUMC. Photo by Donna Jones Bailey.

Joel G. Hardman, Ph.D., was in one place ‹ Vanderbilt University Medical Center ‹ for 33 years, but during that time he really had three distinct careers.

He came as a physiology researcher and had a hand in some of the work that won Dr. Earl Sutherland a Nobel Prize in 1971.

He was chairman of the department of Pharmacology from 1975 to 1990.

And he was associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, working to develop and sustain biomedical research, from 1990 until his retirement at the end of 1997.

Three careers, but many highlights. When pressed to name some of them, he said several stand out:

€ ³Doing research with Earl Sutherland, which yielded some papers that are now looked on as having some influence on the development of the cyclic GMP field.²

€ ³Leaving the Pharmacology department at least as strong as it was when I took it over.²

€ ³Recruiting the likes of Lee Limbird, Daryl Granner, and Peter Reed to Vanderbilt.² Limbird succeeded Hardman as chair of Pharmacology; Granner is chair of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and is Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Sciences; Reed is associate dean of the Graduate School.

€ ³Working with quite a number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who have gone on to have very successful careers.²

€ Serving since 1992 as co-editor-in-chief, with Limbird, of the standard reference work in Pharmacology, Goodman and Gilman¹s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. ³I¹m proud of that and that pride is shared with Lee Limbird,² he said. ³We were both greatly flattered to be asked to edit it.²

From prescriptions to academia

The road Hardman took to an academic career started in a retail pharmacy, Edwards¹ Prescription Lab in Athens, Ga. Hardman, a native of Colbert, Ga., had graduated from the University of Georgia in 1954 with a degree in pharmacy, and was filling prescriptions at the drug store when he had an encounter that shaped the rest of his life.

³I happened to bump into the dean of the pharmacy school on the sidewalk. He asked if I¹d be willing to come back to school as an instructor and work on my master¹s at the same time,² Hardman recalled. Hardman was tiring of life behind the prescription counter, and he accepted the dean¹s offer, earning his master¹s degree in 1959, and went on to earn his Ph.D. from Emory University in 1964.

It was that year that he came to Vanderbilt.

³I came to do post doctoral work with Earl Sutherland. I had no idea of staying any longer than a two-year stint. But then Rollo Park offered me a chance to stay on the faculty, and I jumped at it,² he said.

Park, who at that time was chairman of Physiology, said he has never had a reason to doubt his judgment in asking Hardman to stay on.

³I¹ve always had a great admiration for him,² Park said. ³He is a pillar of high ethical standards. He is very much to be admired.²

During this time, Hardman was toiling at research regarding cyclic AMP, the substance that won its discoverer, Dr. Earl Sutherland, the Nobel Prize in 1971, and cyclic GMP, a substance that proved important in regulating processes in the body.

³Joel Hardman started that work and continued it for many years,² Park said. ³He was truly a pioneer in the study of cyclic GMP.²

Hardman was named assistant professor of Physiology in 1967, associate professor of Physiology in 1970, and professor of Physiology in 1972. He spent most of 1974 in Europe, first on a sabbatical in the department of Physiology at the University of Oxford, and also as a visiting professor at the Free University of Brussels.

From researcher to chairman

Shortly after he returned, the search committee seeking a chair for the department of Pharmacology took the unusual step of recommending a professor from another department, reaching out to the department of Physiology to select Hardman, who set about recruiting other top-flight scientists.

Limbird clearly admires her co-editor and former boss.

³I came to Vanderbilt in 1979 because of Joel Hardman,² she said. ³He is a scientist¹s scientist. He has enormous respect in the field.²

Limbird said that Hardman was well-known for generously giving his time and support to the faculty and students in his department.

³He would come to lectures, he would read grants. He was very attentive to grooming his faculty, and one of the things he was most valued for was his grooming of students,² she said.

Dr. John H. Exton, professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, has known Hardman as a friend and colleague for more than 30 years, and he echoes Limbird¹s praise.

³One of the most impressive things about Joel Hardman is his absolute integrity,² Exton said. ³He is a person of uncompromising principles who was greatly respected by the faculty of the Medical School.²

When Hardman moved from the departmental chairmanship to the vice-chancellor¹s suite, he brought along his desire to help foster research.

One of those who worked closely with Hardman in this third stage of his career was Roger Chalkley, D. Phil., professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and director of the office of Biomedical Graduate Studies.

³He was just the right person to help graduate education in the medical center,² Chalkley said. ³If ever we needed help or advice, he was always ready and willing to do everything possible.

³When you are dealing with the education of graduate students, it really helps to have the senior administrator involved being someone who has an intimate knowledge of all aspects of graduate education from his own years of running one of the best graduate programs in the university.²

Life on the non-farm

As impressive as his career has been, Hardman makes it clear that he is not one to confuse his job with his private life.

He and his wife of 42 years, Georgette, live in rural Williamson County on 35 acres. They had always planned to move to the country after his retirement, but the right place came along and they moved in 1984.

He says 13 years of a one-hour-each-way commute never bothered him, but that his biggest regret about living so far away is it made it difficult to engage in one of the loves of his life ‹ live bluegrass music.

³We were at the Station Inn all the time, and we don¹t really do that any more. I miss that the most,² he said.

But, on balance, Hardman said rural life agrees with him.

³I spend a lot of time playing with my 35 acres,² he said. ³I don¹t call it a farm ‹ my neighbors would die laughing if they heard us call it a farm. I love to garden, but I¹m a very inefficient gardener, so I have to plant a lot. I¹m partial to zucchini and crowder peas; they grow by themselves after you plant the seed,² he said with a laugh.

The non-farm also has a few apple trees, and Hardman earns his winter heat the old-fashioned way.

³We have a woodstove that we use for heat, although we also have a heat pump, and I enjoy cutting the wood, starting with the tree.²

Heating the house for the winter consumes about four cords of wood, and Hardman has been at it so long that not many dead trees remain on the acreage.

There are, however five pets ‹ three cats and two dogs. ³The dogs are Welsh Corgis, and they¹re enough trouble for five other dogs,² Hardman noted clinically.

The Hardmans have four grown children: Pam, who teaches English at West Washington University in Bellingham; Fran, a speech therapist in Cambridge, N.Y.; Mary George, a nurse practitioner in Kanab, Utah; and Joey, who teaches English and linguistics at Southern Illinois University. He is obviously proud of the achievements of his children, and allowed that there isn¹t a black sheep in the bunch.

And he and Georgette share another mutual love: sports. They are fans of the Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves, and Georgette is also a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan. Baseball fans around the medical center could always rely on Hardman to know the latest information about what was going on with the Braves, leavened with a perspective borne of having followed Atlanta baseball since the days of the Braves¹ minor-league predecessors, the Atlanta Crackers.

Now that he will have more time to garden, cut wood, follow sports, chase dogs, and write, Hardman faced squarely the question that is always asked of those about to retire: what will you do with your time?

³What I damn well please,² he said.