He is immortalized in the cries of newborn infants around the world - a pin prick to the heel and a drop of blood on filter paper.
The simple test that Dr. Robert Guthrie invented in 1957 for detecting phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that causes severe mental retardation, now is used routinely in the United States and dozens of other countries to screen infants for a variety of diseases.
Inventor of the Guthrie Test and a tireless advocate for people with intellectual handicaps, Robert Guthrie died of congestive heart failure Saturday in Seattle. He and his wife, Margaret, had moved to Seattle two months ago from their home of 40 years in Buffalo, N.Y.
Dr. Guthrie was 78 years old.
Born in 1916 in the Ozarks in Missouri, Dr. Guthrie spent most of his childhood in the Minneapolis area. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota and went on to a distinguished career conducting research at Children's Hospital in Buffalo and teaching at the state University of New York at Buffalo.
When he wasn't working, he could be found camping with his six children, tinkering with his boats and cruising the Great Lakes, using his sextant to navigate.
"His passion was sailing," said his son James, a business professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. "He developed that love on Lake Minnetonka (in Minnesota)."
His son James recalls his father as an eccentric man who, during years of research often slept in his laboratory. He had an ability to concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, James said.
Although Dr. Guthrie often compared the relatively simple filter test to the invention of the safety pin, his son said safety pins were not his specialty: "He once told me he never changed a diaper in his life. He loved children, he just never got around to changing diapers."
Dr. Jane Lin-Fu, a longtime professional friend who works for Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Public Health Service, recalled Dr. Guthrie as a determined and visionary researcher inspired by his mentally retarded son.
Lin-Fu said that all 50 states now use the Guthrie sample to test for hypothyroid condition and PKU.
Dr. Guthrie is survived by his wife of 53 years, Margaret, of Seattle; a brother William Guthrie of Los Angeles; and three daughters and two sons. They are Anne Guthrie of New York City; Barbara Guthrie of Seattle; Patricia Guthrie of Albuquerque, N.M.; Thomas Guthrie of White Rock, B.C., and James Guthrie of Lawrence. He was preceded in death by his son John Guthrie.
A memorial service for Dr. Guthrie will be held Saturday in Williamsville, N.Y.