University of Minnesota

“It Isn’t Always Fun.” – Martha Keys

A Eulogy

Albany Medical College

November 20, 1996

When Henry Keys, Professor of Oncologic Radiology at Albany and the brother of Martha, invited me to present the Martha Keys Lecture, I immediately wanted to do it. I knew and admired Martha, and the theme of the series, melding science and the arts, was a personal interest and challenge. My introduction to the lecture was the following eulogy for Martha.

The theme of the Martha Keys lecture series is the relation of science and the arts, a theme that embraces the artistic life and creative expression of Martha Keys as well as the science pursued by others of her distinguished family. I may be the first of the Keys lecturers who knew Martha and so would like to say a word about her as we celebrate her life and art here today.

The family home of Ancel and Margaret Keys, Carrie, Henry, and Martha, on Lake Owasso in Minnesota, was the heartbeat for a pulse felt ’round the world. From the 1940s, Ancel Keys carried out researches on the causes and prevention of heart diseases and started a new field, cardiovascular disease epidemiology. The field was developed by physiologists and physicians who became epidemiologists in order to explore heart disease outside the clinic, the metabolism and behaviors of individuals, and the mass phenomena that influence risk of heart attack and stroke in the whole population.

Ideas about population differences in heart attack risk were developed by Keys and colleagues into a far-flung enterprise to test hypotheses about lifestyle, called the Seven Countries Study, with laboratory work going on in Minnesota and field investigations in many countries, studies that are still going on today. Its findings on the importance of diet and other risk factors led, along with those of other laboratory, clinical and population studies, to a newer public health in the prevention of heart attacks. These ideas have since been extrapolated to the promotion of health overall and the prevention of high risk developing in the first place.

Young  Martha Keys and her brother and sister, Henry and Carrie, were at the center of all this activity, traveling abroad with their parents in the field work, living at the social kernel that nurtured the intellectual bloom of these efforts in Memorial Stadium at the University of Minnesota and beyond. Martha, when I knew her then, was a charming and colorful part of this burgeoning activity in the ’50s; utterly confident, direct and comfortable, but correct, whether curtsying elegantly before the tall somber physician to the Swedish royal family, or receiving the homage of a Japanese professor doing his best to bow lower than her diminutive height. Martha, as a youth in these social-professional scenes, was always an individual to be reckoned with, a naturally curious but courteous companion, a warm and gracious host who effectively complemented her parents’ role.

I recall one characteristic gesture of Martha from many years ago at a musical disaster that Gunnar Blomqvist, another post-doctoral fellow, and I perpetrated on a holiday gathering in the Keys’s home. Following a sumptuous dinner, we attempted to perform a clarinet duet as part of the late evening entertainment. But in the afterglow of that meal and its bountiful wines, all musical precision was dissolved. We labored interminably through three movements, our parts rarely close together and often whole measures apart! The agony finally over, Martha, perhaps age 12 at the time, came up to us and said brightly, thus saving our evening: “That should be quite nice after you’ve practiced a bit.”

Martha integrated in her life an artistic sensitivity and a personal creative expression in a natural way that few of us achieve.  Her family also live artfully, devoted to science and its fruits. When one sees such examples of art and science joined in a life, or in a family, dualisms dissolve and creative harmony emerges.

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