Service commemorates pioneer in the field of nutrition and disease

10/29/09  Portland, OR

A service of remembrance is planned for long-time faculty member William E. Connor, M.D., who passed away on Sunday, October 25.


Image of Dr William ConnorA service of remembrance is planned for long-time faculty member William E. Connor, M.D., who passed away on Sunday, October 25.

Dr. Connor earned his medical degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and served on the faculty there from 1958 – 1975. He was appointed Professor in the Department of Medicine (Divisions of Cardiology and Metabolism) at OHSU in 1975, where he also served as Associate Director and then Director of the Clinical Research Center. He became Professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition in 1992.

He married Sonja Connor in 1969, and together they developed an international reputation for their research into how a change in diet can reverse high cholesterol and fat in the blood. Their three best-selling cookbooks - “The New American Diet” – pioneered a philosophy of eating to maximally protect oneself against heart disease. 

William Connor published almost 400 articles. His research focused on how omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, may prevent sudden death from heart attacks. The research led directly to recommendations that people with heart disease should be eating fish twice a week. In collaboration with a variety of colleagues, Dr. Connor made a number of links between nutrition and disease that were at the time controversial but which have since become accepted as fact. He demonstrated that a diet rich in egg yolk could raise a person’s blood cholesterol, and that diabetics could eat a low-fat, high fiber diet (instead of a high-fat, low fiber diet) and still control their blood sugar levels. 

In 1974 he discovered a new genetic disease (sistosterolemia) that can clog arteries. The long term “Family Heart Study” – conducted between 1978 and 1984 and involving 233 Portland families - showed that a typical family eating 40% fat could gradually drop fat consumption to 30%. A recipe book titled “The Best from the Family Heart Kitchens” was one of the results of this study. He also demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids are important nutrients in monkeys and human infants - research that impacted the composition of infant formulas.

More recently he turned his attention to studying the relationship between lutein and macular degeneration. He showed that eating 5 to 9 servings of vegetables and fruits daily would increase the amount of lutein in the blood and in breast milk.

“We are all very saddened by the death of Dr. Connor,” said Mark Richardson, M.D., Dean of the School of Medicine. “He was a dedicated faculty member who helped make OHSU the success it is today. His contributions to health and research, and to OHSU, were enormous. He was a mentor, an educator, a good friend, and will be greatly missed.”

 “Bill was such a rare man – a wonderful scientist and researcher, fabulous clinician, great advocate for social justice, warm and generous friend, said Professor Kerin O’Dea, Director of the Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia in Adelaide. “I imagine I am one of many many people who felt so privileged to have known Bill. He was one of my heroes.”

The Oregonian noted Dr. Connor's passing in an obituary available here.  A service of remembrance will be held at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 14 at the First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson Street, Portland. Memorial contributions may be made to:

Oregon Health & Science University Foundation (Drew Scholarship for African American and Eastman Scholarship for Native American students), 1121 SW Salmon Street, Suite 100, Portland, OR 97205

Friends of Marquam Nature Park, P.O. Box 125, 6327-C Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97239-1937

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, P.O. Box 361, Portland, OR 97207-0361

First United Methodist Church, 1838 SW Jefferson, Portland, OR 97201