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William C. Stanley, 56, cardiovascular physiologist

Medical ResearchFitnessColleges and UniversitiesFamilyCanoeing and Kayaking

William C. Stanley, a cardiovascular physiologist who made connections around the world for his research and loved outdoor exercise, died Oct. 21 in Australia of a heart attack. He was 56.

Dr. Stanley lived in Baltimore for about six years — working for the University of Maryland School of Medicine — before moving overseas in January to become chair of cardiovascular physiology at the University of Sydney.

A California native, he grew up outdoors, often camping and kayaking with his family. Those early experiences influenced both his personal and professional life.

Dr. Stanley, who preferred to be called Bill, earned his bachelor's degree and a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of California, Berkeley. He was devoted to exercise, running seven miles every morning. He met his wife, the former Beth Conn, on an Inner Harbor kayaking trip.

She had been kayaking with a group, and as they pulled up to the Hard Yacht Cafe in Dundalk, Dr. Stanley helped them stow their boats. Six months later, the two were engaged. They held their 2008 ceremony at the cafe.

"He used his time exceedingly well," Mrs. Stanley said. "We never had a TV. Any time he ever did anything, it was always with the intent of growing and learning and doing."

Their marriage followed the philosophy of seizing the moment, she said. Instead of staying in when it snowed, they went cross-country skiing. And they traveled extensively.

On one occasion, she said, as they hiked the Rocky Mountains in Canada, they discovered from other hikers a grizzly bear followed them up to the summit, but fortunately "we did not look appealing enough for dinner."

"We also kayaked in Alaska and a humpback whale surfaced next to our tandem kayak," she said in an email.

Dr. Stanley's earlier marriage to the former Judith Clark ended in divorce. One of their sons, John Stanley of Houston, said his father always enjoyed the water — particularly the fast-moving whitewater rapids — and had kayaked competitively as a young man.

Mr. Stanley said his father was also able to combine his enthusiasm for work and travel.

"He would travel internationally for work at least five, six, seven times a year, probably more," said Mr. Stanley, who would sometimes discover his father was lecturing outside the country — in Thailand, say — when Dr. Stanley would casually mention it during a phone call.

According to his son, that was like him; he didn't make a big deal of anything he did.

"He was very keen about not puffing oneself up," Mr. Stanley said.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco's Cardiovascular Research Institute in 1989, Dr. Stanley worked first as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and in the mid-1990s for California firms Syntex Discovery Research and CV Therapeutics.

He then spent 10 years at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, launching a research program dedicated to integrative approaches to metabolic dysfunction in heart failure and ischemic heart disease.

While at Case in 2002, he and five colleagues from around the world founded the Society of Heart & Vascular Metabolism to organize annual meetings for specialists in the field.

In 2007, he came to the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a professor and director of cardiovascular sciences. He ran a lab that studied the connections between heart problems, metabolism and diet.

A five-year, $11.2 million grant the lab won in 2009, for instance, allowed Dr. Stanley and his team to study new ways in which dietary changes could prevent or treat heart failure.

"Different substances from food affect the mitochondria in different ways," he said at the time. "We want to improve those defective mitochondria and prevent the mitochondria from going bad."

His sudden death — an acute myocardial infarction ischemia, to use the technical term — came as a shock. Dr. Stanley made a point of following the best practices for heart health.

"He did really everything a person could do to prevent this sort of thing," Mr. Stanley said.

In addition to his university work, Dr. Stanley spent the last three years as editor in chief of the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology. He decided to skip editorials — he suspected that no one read them — and brought in monthly podcasts instead. The journal has since produced nearly 70 audio interviews with authors of articles it has published.

Kara Hansell Keehan, executive editor of the journal, said Dr. Stanley was an innovator who had a knack for bringing out the best in people. One of his favorite things to say was, "We should do that" and, "You're smart, you'll figure it out."

"He really did have a contagious enthusiasm for science — and life," said Mrs. Hansell Keehan, who lives in Baltimore. "He would work a room in the most genuine, enthusiastic, really just warm and engaging way and that drew people to him, and he would leave with five new friends wherever he went."

In addition to his wife, former wife and son John, Dr. Stanley is survived by his stepmother, Leslie Stanley of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; a sister, Sally Gudgel of Eugene, Ore.; a brother, Charles Stanley of Santa Cruz, Calif.; a daughter, Meg Stanley of White Salmon, Wash.; a son, Henry Stanley of Red Feather Lakes, Colo.; a stepdaughter, Natalie Conn of Brooklyn, N.Y.; two stepsons, Nathan Conn of Baltimore and Clayton Conn of Mexico City; and a granddaughter, Madison Stanley of White Salmon, Wash..

Memorial tributes will be held in Australia and Baltimore, the family said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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