McGill led research into heart disease
Henry Coleman McGill Jr. was a man of faith, of science and of medicine. Most of all, he was a kind, upright soul.
“There was not a manipulative bone in his body. My mother always accused him of being overly trusting of people,” said McGill’s eldest daughter Margaret. “He just told the truth and did what he thought was right and he thought everyone else was doing that, too, and that they didn’t have these ulterior motives.”
On Feb. 23, McGill died of kidney failure at his home near Canyon Lake. He was 95.
McGill was the son of a Baptist preacher who lost his job and his house in the Great Depression. Forced to raise chickens, McGill helped his father out for a year after he graduated high school before he took off on his own, Margaret McGill said.
“His father didn’t care if he wanted to go to college or not but Daddy, after a year, got up his nerve and defied his father. And with the help of a wealthy family from their church … they helped fund his education,” Margaret McGill said.
McGill trained to become a pathologist. While at Louisiana State University, he was offered and accepted the opportunity to study a dead baboon from the Audubon Zoo.
McGill found that baboons have similar internal structures to humans and he began to realize the possibilities of using baboons as test subjects to figure out how diseases developed in humans. Margaret McGill said that he and other researchers traveled to Kenya and brought back both live and dead baboons to the U.S. to study.
“They taught the baboons how to smoke,” Margaret McGill said, adding that they “got strongly addicted.”
She stressed that he cared for the animals “humanely,” and that his research spun off to create treatments for premature babies.
Among his accomplishments, McGill led research into heart disease, was chair of the Department of Pathology at the UT Health Science Center and was the first Scientific Director at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
Later in life he was an active sailor, a four-time commodore of the Lake Canyon Yacht Club, and lived on his own until the last year. His youngest daughter, Beth Dahlberg, said he shook off the notion that he should slow down.
“When someone would suggest that he settle down and hire someone to do this or that, or take a rest … his response was ‘I’m afraid that if I sit down I won’t be able to get back up.’”