In the evenings he played his 17th-century Stradivarius violin; most summers he traveled to Germany and Austria to perform with professional musicians. He performed a solo on his 100th birthday at his alma mater, Gettysburg College (Class of 1919). He also played a duet at Carnegie Hall with his violinist son, F. William Sunderman Jr., now 71, in 1998.
During a career that witnessed nearly every major medical advancement of the 20th century, the doctor had a practical reason for continuing to work.
He said during an interview in 1999: "I want to live. I have too many interests to retire." He believed the ultimate secret to longevity is remaining actively engaged in life. "You must have innate curiosity," he said.
Dr. Sunderman was born in Altoona in 1898, when the country was celebrating the Spanish-American War victory and news traveled by Morse code. He saw Halley's comet twice - once as a youth with his father in Central Pennsylvania in 1910, and 76 years later as a scientist doing research in New Zealand.
He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1923 and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn.
During the 1930s, Dr. Sunderman directed the chemistry division of the William Pepper Laboratory at Penn, developing methods for measurement of blood cholesterol, glucose and chloride.
In 1938, during his convalescence from pulmonary tuberculosis, he practiced his violin and became an amateur photographer. When war broke out, he was unable to serve in the military because of his history of lung disease.
He worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II, investigating the effects of nickel carbonyl on workers who were using highly toxic gas to make atomic weapons, eventually developing an antidote for nickel carbonyl poisoning. He was his first human test subject. "I took the first dose," he said. "I'd worked around the laboratory animals so much that I knew it would work."
After the war, he worked at several medical institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic, the M.D. Anderson Hospital Cancer Center in Texas, and Emory University. In 1951, he became professor of medicine and director of the division of metabolic research at Jefferson Medical College (later Thomas Jefferson University Hospital), where he investigated new techniques to diagnose diseases of the thyroid, adrenal and other endocrine organs.
Dr. Sunderman cowrote more than 300 scientific papers and 16 scientific books. He also wrote several books on chamber music, travel and photography, plus an autobiography, A Time to Remember. Dr. Sunderman received numerous awards and in 1999 was recognized as America's oldest worker following a nationwide search by Experience Works Inc. (formerly Green Thumb).
In 1924, Dr. Sunderman married Clara Louise Baily; she died in 1972. They had two other children in addition to William Jr.: a daughter, Louise, who died at age 3, and a son, Joel, who died at age 24.
In 1980, Dr. Sunderman married Martha Lee Biscoe; she died in 2000.
In addition to his son, Dr. Sunderman is survived by three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in Center City. Burial will follow in Washington Memorial Chapel Churchyard in Valley Forge.
Memorial donations may be made to Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2110 Chestnut St., Philadelphia 19103.
Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or email@example.com.