BY DAWN LEVY
Gail Elizabeth Butterfield, an internationally recognized nutrition researcher, died Dec. 27 of a brain tumor at Kaiser Hospital in Richmond, Calif. She was 56. Director of Sports Nutrition for the Stanford University Sports Medicine Program, Butterfield was a prime mover in establishing studies of human nutrition and exercise physiology in the Human Biology program at Stanford, where she was a visiting assistant professor. She also was Director of Nutrition Studies at the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"She was a great friend to many of us," says collaborator Dr. Gordon O. Matheson, associate professor and chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at Stanford's Medical School. "Warm, supportive, always willing to take help in a project or with a problem."
Butterfield taught and advised generations of students in the Human Biology program at Stanford since the mid-1980s. "She gave generously of her time and advice, helping many students understand the complex interplay between nutrition and health," recalls program director Russell Fernald. Butterfield sponsored numerous undergraduates in original honors research and, along with registered dietician Helen DeMarco, coordinated nutrition services for Stanford's 800 varsity athletes.
Together with Matheson, Butterfield developed courses in a curricular track titled "Human Health and Nutrition." "Her teaching was a model of good pedagogy," Fernald says.
"What really distinguished Gail was she was indulgent to a fault with her advisees and students," recalls Dr. Barry Braun, assistant director of the VA's Aging Study unit. "Every one of them knew what her daughter looked like -- she always showed them pictures. There was no barrier between what was personal and what was professional. Her students, especially her women students, really responded to that. They felt she believed in them, that they could do great things."
Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Butterfield was raised in Los Altos. Changing her college major from dress design to biology, she went on to earn her bachelor's degree in biological sciences in 1966, master's in anatomy in 1970, master's in nutrition in 1974 and doctorate in nutrition in 1980 -- all from the University of California-Berkeley. Inspirational in this career path was Dr. Doris Calloway, a global protein expert who helped Butterfield get in touch with her "inner scientist."
"Once I did my first experiment involving protein and exercise, I was hooked," Butterfield once said. "There was nothing else that I could do with my life."
In 1982 the American Dietetic Association granted her Registered Dietician degree, and from 1982 to 1985 she directed the Coordinated Program in Dietetics for the Department of Nutritional Sciences at UC-Berkeley. But when the director of the Aging Study unit at the VA Hospital made her an offer, Butterfield -- impressed with the metabolic kitchen, staff dieticians, on-site laboratory and access to local clinical labs -- accepted.
Butterfield published more than 60 research articles, book chapters and editorials. She was a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and served as president and executive director of its Southwest Chapter in 1992. She founded the Nutrition Interest Group and served on the editorial boards for Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal, American Journal of Physiology and International Journal of Sports Nutrition. She also reviewed extensively for the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Butterfield gained national recognition for her research on nutritional utilization at high altitudes. In 1996, she participated in a study of women at Pike's Peak in Colorado in conjunction with the Department of Defense and the universities of California and Colorado. Whereas previous studies had ignored nutrition, Butterfield showed that high-altitude subjects lost weight unless they were force-fed. "Once you stop the weight loss and get the subjects to eat, you can study the body's responses to altitude uncomplicated by undernutrition," she explained.
Butterfield was to be the principal investigator on an Army study to commence in spring of 2000 on the interactive effects of oxygen deficiency and general body wasting on physical performance at high altitudes.
Part of a growing wave of research that focused on women, Butterfield was proud to be involved in studies that did not treat women "as small versions of men." With Drs. Robert Marcus and Andrew Hoffman at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, she studied the effects of growth hormone and estrogen on osteoporosis in aging women.
In a 1997 profile in the San Jose Mercury News, she told a reporter, "I have the world's best job. I get to do exactly what I want with the greatest staff and subjects." Away from work, Butterfield exercised six times a week. She especially enjoyed running and bicycling. A resident of El Cerrito, she also liked cooking, making jewelry and refurbishing old dolls.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, March 18, at 4 p.m. in Stanford Memorial Church. Arrangements are pending for a memorial scholarship.
Butterfield is survived by her
parents, Frank and Jeanette Butterfield of Cupertino; sister Susan
of Norman, Okla.; brother Frank III ("Pete") of Davis, Calif.; and
16-year-old daughter Carrie of El Cerrito. SR