When Welby Newlon Tauxe's father commanded that he never speak French nor drink Coca-Cola, the 12-year-old couldn't control his chronic overdose of curiosity.
Soon after, the boy rushed to the library and studied French before bolting to the soda fountain for a first-ever Coke. Returning home he addressed his father in French and admitted to having drunk the forbidden drink.
It set the trend for lifelong intellectual adventures and pursuit of knowledge, all with a side order of humor.
During his notable medical and scientific career, he and a group of colleagues pioneered the field of nuclear medicine. As a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, he organized people locally and traveled worldwide advocating for nuclear disarmament and the end of nuclear bomb testing.
He also exemplified the Renaissance man, with more interests and accomplishments than fingers and toes.
Dr. Tauxe spoke French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Russian, with an understanding of a dozen other tongues -- Polish, Swedish, Albanian, Balachka spoken by Cossacks and even a brush with the language of the Shoshoni Indians.
He and his wife, Margaret Louise Hardwick Tauxe, raised four children, all of them scientists, one also with a medical degree. He gardened, cooked and promoted the international use of iodized salt to battle goiters and cretinism. He sang tenor, painted in oils and made detailed paper models of architecture. His favorite composer: Johann Sebastian Bach. His favorite game: Fictionary.
He struck up serious discussions with people while waiting to cross the street.
"His core was a powerful and playful intellect," said his daughter Lisa Tauxe, a University of California, San Diego, geophysicist. "He also was an incredibly funny man to the end. He was a great punster, often to my mother's chagrin."
Dr. Tauxe, 88, died of pneumonia Saturday in San Diego while surrounded by family.
A Knoxville native, he was studying engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, when he joined the Army during World War II. His unit landed in Normandy, where Dr. Tauxe stole away the first night in camp to find where William the Conqueror set up camp before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Returning to find his unit being deployed, he ran and leaped into the back of a truck that soon would be sideswiped and toppled by a bulldozer, breaking Dr. Tauxe's back.
In a body cast for six months, Dr. Tauxe developed an interest in medicine while serving as a French interpreter for the Army. He also learned to speak German by talking to German prisoners. Once recuperated, he served as a medical technician and German interpreter.
After the war, he graduated from college and entered the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis, where he met Margaret on a blind date and they were married in 1949. Graduating in 1951, he became a physician at the National Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he treated people with radiation exposure and quickly realized how little was known.
In 1953, he moved to Rochester, Minn., for a residency at the Mayo Clinic before joining its staff and advancing to director of the newly formed Laboratory of Nuclear Medicine. He became director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Alabama Medical Center in 1973, then in 1983, he became director of UPMC's division of nuclear medicine, where he developed a method to assess transplanted organ function.
During his career, he also pioneered the use of radioactive tracers to measure lung, heart, thyroid and kidney function; worked on new image processing methods enhanced by early computers; tested children for exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb testing; and developed expertise in tracking thyroid and kidney disease.
Famed transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl arrived in Pittsburgh to discover the technology Dr. Tauxe and his team had developed. "It was an important tool they had to offer," he said, adding that he never knew Dr. Tauxe but appreciated the technology he developed. "It's important to emphasize that that was a critical tool that pre-existed me when I came here."
Daniel Fine, a retired doctor of internal medicine and nephrology in the Alle-Kiski Valley, said Dr. Tauxe was a leader locally in efforts to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, the groups often meeting in the Tauxe home. "He was very warm, very engaging, and extremely modest considering the many accomplishments and achievements he had scientifically," he said.
Dr. Tauxe's son, Robert Tauxe, an Atlanta resident and deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Disease, said his father made important contributions to science. "The whole field of nuclear medicine didn't exist until he and his friends invented it."
Daughter Lisa said her father discussed broad topics at the dinner table and used any opportunity to drop a pun or tell a funny tale. When she went to kindergarten, her classmates and teachers wondered why she called her belly button an "umbilicus," the armpit an "axilla" and her knee cap, the "patella." Her father had used anatomical rather than common terms to see what reaction she'd get at school. "I thought that's what they were called," Ms. Tauxe said. "He must have been tickled to have little blondie, 5 years old, going off to kindergarten with technical terms for the knee cap. Why else would you talk to a little kid like that?"
In 1970, Dr. Tauxe escorted Shoshoni Indians to a nuclear protest in Kazakhstan where they met with Cossacks, both groups having been exposed to nuclear test fallout in their respective countries. He took interest in their languages and cultures. To celebrate the gathering, Cossacks slaughtered a sheep and honored Dr. Tauxe as the oldest man in the group by giving him the delicacy -- the sheep's eyes. It would have been dishonorable to refuse them.
"I don't think he enjoyed them -- or ate all of them," his son Robert said.
In Pittsburgh, Dr. Tauxe served on the boards of the Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society and sang tenor in community choruses and church choirs while serving key positions on various national and international nuclear science organizations. He published hundreds of scientific studies and edited textbooks.
He retired from UPMC in 1994 and remained in Pittsburgh until recent years when the Tauxes moved to San Diego to live next to daughter Lisa.
Dr. Tauxe died listening to Bach.
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Dr. Tauxe is survived by another daughter, Caroline Tauxe of Syracuse, N.Y.; another son, John Tauxe of Los Alamos, N.M.; a brother, Edward L. Tauxe of Tallahassee, Fla., and nine grandchildren. The family will hold a private memorial service and suggests memorial contributions to Physicians for Social Responsibility.
David Templeton: email@example.com or 412-263-1578.