Editor’s note: A previous version of this obituary was published in WholeFoods Magazine in May 2022.
Richard Albert Passwater, a pioneer of the natural products industry, died on April 28, 2022, at age 84. Passwater is fondly remembered by his colleagues including the team at WholeFoods Magazine, where he served as science editor for 36 years and wrote the magazine’s popular “Vitamin Connection” column, which he created. His final column was published in the June 2022 issue.
Passwater was born on October 13, 1937, in Wilmington, Delaware, and received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Delaware in 1959. During his extensive career, Passwater served as a civilian scientist with the US Air Force’s Project Papa Bear to ensure the purity of liquid nitrogen for the Centaur rocket, which first launched in the 1960s. He also was the director of the Research Analytics Laboratories at Allied Chemical Corporation, director of the Applications Research Laboratory at Baxter Travenol Laboratories, vice president of research for the American Gerontological Research Laboratories Division of Life Science Labs, and vice president of research and development for Solgar Vitamin & Herb Company.
Passwater’s impact on the industry is significant. He wrote more than 45 books and 600 articles and participated in more than 7,000 radio shows. His honors include recognition by the Committee for World Health in 1978 and 1980, the National Nutritional Foods Association’s (now the Natural Products Association’s) President’s Award in 1999, the American Academy of Nutrition’s James Lind Scientific Achievement Award in 2004, and the John Peter Zenger Free Press Award for Writing in 2004. He also was inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2021 by the International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine (ISOM). This honor was in recognition of his decades of work as a pioneer in the field of orthomolecular medicine (a branch of medicine that focuses on nutritional supplementation as a method of maintaining health).
Passwater began researching selenium and other antioxidants in 1959 and discovered and patented certain antioxidant synergisms in 1962. Through mainstream media reports of his research in 1970 and 1971, he may have introduced the public to the terms “free radical” and “antioxidant.”1 He also was a founding advisor of Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Maryland, a member of the American Chemical Society since 1959, and a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists.
Passwater’s list of contributions to the natural health field is long. In the early 1970s, he was the first nutrition advisor to a National Football League team and a nutrition advisor to the professional boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali (1942–2016). His 1975 book Supernutrition: Megavitamin Revolution (Pocket Books) was a national bestseller and has been credited with helping legitimize vitamin therapy. In addition, he served on the editorial board of the Journal of Applied Nutrition, and his work has been cited numerous times in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.
Howard Wainer, president of WholeFoods Magazine, wrote: “It is a great loss to lose a friend and colleague who I have known for 37 years. He has never missed a Vitamin Connection column, and I remember going into so many natural products stores and seeing his column posted to the wall. It is [a] great sorrow” (email, May 5, 2022).
Heather Wainer, publisher of WholeFoods Magazine and vice president of media, wrote: “Dick has been a friend and part of my family for as long as I can remember. We were always so proud to have Vitamin Connection as one of our columns, and it has remained a favorite of our readers for decades. I loved his excitement for each new interview, with such anticipation and dedication to sharing the latest science. And his passion for baseball was the same: Going to an Orioles game with him and his wife Barbara was special. We will truly miss him” (email, April 28, 2022).
Barrie Tan, PhD, founder and chief scientific officer of American River Nutrition, wrote of his friend and colleague of more than 30 years: “In life, his demeanor was always approachable. To the scientist, his work was inspiring, as was his unspoken axiom to expand and share our knowledge as professionals who care about the common good and seek to explain mutual health benefits. To the layperson, his contributions were enriching and useful, in particular because he sought to communicate complex research clearly and help science be understood … and I will miss him in all these levels” (email, May 3, 2022).
Victor Ferrari, CEO of Horphag Research, wrote: “Our hearts are saddened by the recent loss of Dr. Richard Passwater. We at Horphag Research had the pleasure of collaborating with him for more than 30 years on various projects, including groundbreaking research discoveries, six educational books on Pycnogenol®, and decades of enlightening conversations and interviews for his Vitamin Connection column…. Dr. Passwater was truly an industry pioneer and a brilliant scientist. We have lost a great colleague and a treasured friend. We will miss him dearly. Our thoughts continue to be with his wife Barbara and sons” (email, May 5, 2022).
Scott C. Tips, WholeFoods Magazine legal editor, wrote:
Dr. Passwater always had the amazing knack of transforming any subject he discussed — no matter how inherently dull it might seem on the surface — into the most fascinating and intriguing bit of useful knowledge ever. His column, not my own, was invariably the first I would rush to read with each issue of WholeFoods Magazine. His wisdom, insight, and basic, good common sense never wavered from the straight and true. He will be sorely missed (email, May 2, 2022).
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, wrote:
Dr. Richard Passwater was a pioneer in nutritional biochemistry education. Back in the years when we both wrote monthly columns for WholeFoods Magazine — he on nutritional items and I on herbs and botanical issues — he was the first person to introduce the dietary supplement industry, including me, to the emerging science on Pycnogenol, now one of the most well-researched botanical ingredients in the world. When we would meet at scientific conferences and trade shows, he was always very kind, accessible, and generous with his time — an intelligent, decent, and wonderful man! He was a true asset to the natural foods and dietary supplement community (email, May 7, 2022).
Passwater’s death is also felt in his local communities of Winterville, North Carolina; Sarasota, Florida; and Ocean Pines, Maryland. Passwater was voted Citizen of the Year by Ocean Pines in 1987 and was inducted into the Delmarva Firefighter’s Hall of Fame in 1993 after serving for 25 years as a volunteer EMT and firefighter. This volunteerism also included 10 years as chief of the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department. He enjoyed spending time with family and friends, photography, genealogy, and Baltimore Orioles and Delmarva Shorebirds baseball games.
Richard Passwater is preceded in death by his parents Stanley Sr. and Mabel King Passwater and his brother, Stanley Passwater Jr. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 57 years; two children, Richard (Myriam) and Michael (Ellen); two grandchildren, Matt (Chelsea) and Thomas; two great-grandchildren, Audrey and Jamison; and a nephew and many cousins. A memorial service was held in Selbyville, Delaware, on May 14, 2022.
Maggie Jaqua is the editor-in-chief of WholeFoods Magazine.
- 18th Annual Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame Inductees. ISOM website. 2021;36(2). Available at: https://isom.ca/article/18th-annual-orthomolecular-medicine-hall-of-fame-inductees/. Accessed September 7, 2022.