"It was quite a remarkable experience," Alice Chase said. "Everybody said, 'Here's this guy talking pie in the sky,' but he did it."
Such was the way of Grafton D. Chase, scientist, gentleman and a pioneer in the field of radiochemistry and its use in diagnosis and treatment of diseases, who died Sunday in Lankenau Hospital at age 72.
Dr. Chase, of Wynnewood, was a faculty member at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science for 43 years and chairman of its chemistry department
from 1981 to 1987. He also directed the school's radioisotope laboratories
from 1956 until his retirement in 1989.
A colleague and friend, Jerry Thoman, called Dr. Chase "one of the pioneers" of radiochemistry.
Dr. Chase pioneered the use of radioactive isotopes in diagnosing many diseases and treating cancers, said Thoman, chairman of the chemistry department at the pharmacy college. He also helped develop radioactive tracers, which pharmaceutical companies use to determine the effectiveness of experimental drugs.
Such advances are "fiercely important in medicine," Thoman said. "This was the type of work he was first-rate in."
Dr. Chase and his colleagues realized they were at the forefront of a new field. Their work, said Al Gennaro, a professor at the pharmacy school, has greatly influenced modern handling and usage of radioactive isotopes.
"They realized radioactivity had some unusual properties. They were the first ones to learn how to handle it and how to dispose of it carefully," Gennaro said. "They had quite an impact."
In addition to his regular teaching load, Dr. Chase taught summer institutes on radiochemistry for 12 years at the college. Scientists in the still burgeoning field would come from as far as Canada and South America to attend the institutes.
"This shows how prestigious he was," said Thoman. "People from other universities came to study with him here."
Dr. Chase was the co-author of Principles of Radioisotope Methodology, which Thoman called "one of the most important books in this field."
Joseph Rabinowitz, who worked closely with Dr. Chase and co-authored Principles with him in 1955, said radiochemists barely realized the significance - or hazards - of their work.
"It was very unusual because we knew very little and we had to be very careful," said Rabinowitz, who is a former professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "We were very conscious of not hurting anybody or hurting ourselves."
Rabinowitz said Dr. Chase "was very, very academic and always very, very precise."
Alice Chase said her husband was as generous at home as he was precise in the laboratory. "He was such a kind and gentle soul," she said. "He opened his heart and his home to everyone."
She said he would often give her little notice before bringing guests for dinner.
"We had a joke about collecting people off the street," she said.
''He'd call me here at the house and his line was, 'Put another hot dog in
the pot.' "
Colleagues said Dr. Chase carried his gentlemanly manner with him to work.
"Dr. Chase was a patrician of the old school," Thoman said. Tall, thin and handsome, Dr. Chase would "always bow to women and tip his hat and all that sort. If you were casting a movie or a TV show to show an old millionaire, it would be him."
"It's a real loss," Thoman said. "Everybody's heart is broken now that he's gone."
In addition to his wife, Dr. Chase is survived by four children and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. today at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Ave.
Contributions may be made in Dr. Chase's name to the Lankenau Hospital Foundation (for Research) or the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.