Chemist, author, diet researcher Margaret Keys was 97

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2006 - 8:37 PM

The wife of famed U scientist Ancel Keys, she wrote three books with him and served as his research partner.

Research chemist Margaret Keys, who helped her husband, Ancel, in his landmark studies of the diets of thousands of men around the world and who popularized the so-called Mediterranean diet, died at her home in Minneapolis on Dec. 3.

Keys, co-author of three books with her husband, including the bestseller "Eat Well and Stay Well," was 97.

"She was his chemist as well as wife and partner," said Dr. Henry Blackburn, professor emeritus in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

Ancel Keys died at age 100 in 2004. His studies pointed to high cholesterol and fatty diets as chief culprits in heart disease. Some of his other work included the invention of military K-rations (the K stands for Keys) and the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which had implications for rebuilding postwar Europe.

Margaret Keys met her husband when he hired her to work as a research chemist at the Mayo Clinic during the late 1930s. They married in 1939.

She was especially active as his research partner during most of the 1950s, when they studied the health and diets of people around the world.

Blackburn said Margaret Keys, who had special skills in nutrition and chemistry, organized the far-flung laboratories, handled dietary surveys and scheduled exams. "She was the calm to his tumultuousness in his harried and busy career," Blackburn said of the Keyses.

In the 1960s her role in her husband's career changed to that of writer and traveling partner. "She was quite essential to [the success of their books]. She prepared the food and tested the recipes repeatedly," said Blackburn.

Keys continued to assist her husband's work until the late 1990s. Italian authorities recently gave her an award.

Keys, who was raised in Duluth, graduated from Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. She enjoyed many hobbies, including knitting and sewing, said her son, Dr. Henry Keys of Voorheesville, N.Y. "She once made my father a suit just to prove that she could do it," he said.

In addition to her son, Margaret Keys is survived by daughter Carrie D'Andrea of Bloomington, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. In 1991, the Keyses' daughter Martha was shot and killed while in Jamaica.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel, W. 50th Street and Hwy. 100. Visitation will be held there at 10 a.m.

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