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Conrad Wagner, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Vanderbilt who conducted foundational research in nutritional science for more than half a century at the university, died March 13 in Nashville. He was 93.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Wagner earned a bachelor’s in biology from The City College of New York in 1951, and master’s and doctoral degrees in biochemistry from the University of Michigan, completing his Ph.D. in 1956. He then joined the U.S. Navy as an active-duty reservist, serving at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, from 1956 to 1959.
In 1959 he began a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Heart Institute of the National Institutes of Health in the esteemed lab of Dr. Earl Stadtman. In 1961 he joined the Vanderbilt faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, becoming associate professor in 1968 and full professor in 1975.
During his 54-year career at the university, Wagner maintained an active lab conducting research in nutritional science focused on folate, vitamins and one-carbon metabolism compounds. This work resulted in numerous awards, fellowships and invited speakerships, as well as government funding and some 180 publications and reviews. Wagner received the Borden Award in Nutrition from the American Institute of Nutrition as well as a MERIT award from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
“Toward the end of his career, Connie’s office was just down the hall from me, and he would periodically stop by to chat. He usually would want to discuss some new idea he had or some interesting results,” recalled Bruce Carter, professor of biochemistry. “He was truly a brilliant man, always thinking about his science. Even into his 80s, he was actively engaged in research and funded by the NIH. I consider Connie a great role model and can only hope to have his mental acuity and ceaseless curiosity when I’m that age.”
Wagner was interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry from 1991 to 1992. He served on the Faculty Senate, Faculty Advisory Council and the Promotions and Graduate Education Committee, playing an active and influential role in forming policies within the Vanderbilt community. As a teacher and mentor, he trained numerous postdoctoral scholars, research faculty and staff and advanced the teaching of metabolism and nutrition to countless Vanderbilt medical and graduate students.
Throughout his career Wagner also was a binding link between Vanderbilt University and the Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, encouraging collaboration between the institutions. He served as chief of the VA Biochemistry Research Unit and as associate chief of staff for research at the VA. He was awarded emeritus status by Vanderbilt University in 2015.
Wagner was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Jane Wagner, in 2019. Survivors include sons Peter Wagner of Chicago and Kurt Wagner of Nashville.
Funeral services will be private and are under the direction of Marshall-Donnelly-Combs Funeral Home. The family requests that alternate expressions of sympathy take the form of donations to Wagner’s undergraduate alma mater, The City College of New York. For information about giving to CCNY, visit ccny.cuny.edu/giving/how-make-gift.