Gatorade creator Dr. Robert Cade dies Tuesday at age 80

November 27, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dr. J. Robert Cade, the legendary University of Florida scientist who led the research team that gave the world Gatorade, died Tuesday at Shands at UF medical center. He was 80.

“Today, with his passing, the University of Florida lost a legend, lost one of its best friends and lost a creative genius,” said Dr. Edward Block, chairman of the department of medicine in the College of Medicine, where Cade was an emeritus professor. “Losing any one of those is huge. When you lose all three in one person, it’s something you cannot recoup.”

He had a sense of humor, a quirky one at that, friends and colleagues said. His research, philanthropy and leadership helped countless people during his more than 40 years at UF.

Dr. Cade liked to tell the story of how a football player sampling an early batch of Gatorade compared the beverage’s taste to a less-than-savory bodily fluid. An old newspaper article describes how he tested the durability of a hydraulic helmet he invented by hitting an assistant in the head. She was wearing the helmet, and it, of course, worked brilliantly.

“He thought outside of the box,” said Dr. Richard Johnson, the J. Robert Cade professor of nephrology and division chief of nephrology. “He was a maverick in his time.”

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Cade attended medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He came to UF in 1961 as an assistant professor for the College of Medicine’s renal division. He was UF’s first kidney specialist and one of the university’s first true clinical and translational researchers, said Dr. Bruce Kone, dean of the UF College of Medicine.

“He had a wide range of research interests,” Kone said. “He was a very creative scientist. He was the perfect blend of imagination and practicality.”

Cade and his research fellows began experimenting with Gatorade in 1965. They wanted to create a drink that would help keep UF football players hydrated on the field, but the mixture of glucose and sodium didn’t taste like much until his wife suggested they add lemons.

“We got lemon squeezers’ cramp after five lemons,” Cade joked in 2005. “We liked the taste of it though no one else did. Then we made it sweet and we thought it tastes very good.”

The beverage made its first big headlines in 1966, when sportswriters discovered a link between the UF Gators’ superior second-half performances and their consumption of the brew. At the close of the football season that year after the Gators trounced Miami, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville ran a story titled “One Lil’Swig of That Kickapoo Juice and Biff, Bam, Sock — It’s Gators, 8-2.”

Fame expanded exponentially when a Miami Herald sportswriter asked what the Gators were drinking. In an interview with Cade, he learned it was a mixture of water, sodium, potassium, phosphate, sugar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, which kept players adequately hydrated and warded off fatigue. The Herald’s story was distributed worldwide by Associated Press and United Press International, and in Cade’s words, “Our stuff was on its way.”

Gatorade bred a multibillion-dollar sports drink industry and has brought in more than $150 million in royalties to UF since its invention 40 years ago. The money has funded numerous projects and programs in the UF College of Medicine. Cade also used some of his share of the royalties to fund scholarships and an endowed chair in the college.

“Without that funding, the College of Medicine would not be where it stands today,” Kone said.

Cade also invented a slew of other creations, namely a beer called Hop N’ Gator, which was on the market for about 10 years, a high-protein milk drink called Gator Go! and a nutritional ice pop to help sick children.

“He continued to do research until he was 79,” Johnson said. “I had the pleasure of writing a paper with him a few years ago.”

Block also described Cade — a man who collected Studebakers, quoted Wordsworth and Tennyson and doted on his six children and numerous grandchildren — as a role model for how to behave like a gentleman.

“We talk about the Gator Nation, Gatorade put the Gator Nation on the map,” Block said. “Everybody knows who we are because of that.”

Dr. Cade is survived by a wife, Mary Strasburger of Gainesville, Fla.; two sons, Michael of Texas and Stephen of Gainesville, Fla.; four daughters, Martha of Gainesville, Fla., Celia Cade Johnson of Oregon, Emily Morrison of Boston, and Phoebe Miles of Washington, D.C.; 20 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.