William Jefferson Darby

(1913 - 2001)

William Darby

William Darby

William Darby, Mary Teloh

Dr. Darby and Mary H. Teloh, Special Collections Librarian, The Annette and Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library.

William J. Darby, considered one of the leading nutrition researchers of the 20th century, joined the Vanderbilt Faculty in 1944 with a dual appointment in the Department of Medicine and Department of Biochemistry. Bill Darby, as he was more familiarly known in medical/nutrition circles, was born in Galloway, Arkansas, November 6, 1913. He graduated MD from the University of Arkansas, and then a fellowship took him to the University of Michigan where, under Howard B. Lewis, he obtained a Ph. D. degree in Biological Chemistry. While still an undergraduate at Arkansas, he worked as an assistant in the Department of Physiological Chemistry with Dr. Paul Day, and in 1933, published his first article on nutrition, a study of the vitamin content of the alligator pear, more commonly known as the avocado.

Dr. Darby came to Vanderbilt in 1942 as a Special Fellow in Nutrition of the International Health Division of The Rockefeller Foundation, working with Dr. John Youmans. The following year he moved to North Carolina where he taught at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as Director of Nutrition for the State Board of Health. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, he returned in 1944 as Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Medicine. Dr. Darby became chair of the Department of Biochemistry in 1949 and served in this position until 1971. In his early years at Vanderbilt, Dr. Darby worked to obtain the outside funding that led to the establishment of the first separate identifiable nutrition unit in an American medical school. In 1972 William Darby was elected a member of the prestigious National Academy of Science and became President of the Nutrition Foundation.

As a scientist, Dr. Darby made significant contributions to our knowledge of human requirements for protein, iron, folic acid, and zinc. As a teacher and mentor he enriched the lives of many generations of students. As a consultant to major charitable foundations he channeled significant funding to nutrition education and research projects.

Dr. Darby served as a very active Honorary Curator for the History of Medicine Collection in the Eskind Library while in retirement. His passion for old books began in his graduate student days in the early 1940's. Dr. Howard B. Lewis, a professor of Biochemistry at the University of Michigan, encouraged him to read the classic original descriptions of scientific experiments. One of Dr. Darby's early and enduring collecting interests was the history of scurvy and the influence of this disease on the many voyages of discovery to America and the South Pacific in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Dr. Darby's research interests also influenced his book collecting. As a result of his extensive travels in third world countries, he collected works on nutritional problems such as goiter, anemia, protein deficiency, pellagra, and kwashiorkor. Another of Dr. Darby's special collecting interests was early English cookbooks and books on wine.

Dr. Darby died on June 6, 2001. He willed his extensive collection of rare books on nutrition to the Eskind Biomedical Library.

The Eskind Library also has a collection of Dr. Darby's personal papers. For more information, please consult the Inventory of the William Jefferson Darby Papers.