Born: April 8, 1926
Allisonville Meadows Assisted Living
Hugh R. Sullivan Jr. made a difference in the lives of millions as one of the developers of popular pain relievers, antibiotics and other drugs.
He spent decades at Eli Lilly & Co. working on the pain relievers Darvon and Darvocet, the antibiotics Keflex and Ceclor, and the drug methadone, used to help addicts curb their addictions.
He was also widely known for developing ways to help drugs metabolize in the body more effectively.
Sullivan published 96 papers and gave 26 lectures worldwide on the mechanisms involved in drugs metabolizing in the human body.
His greatest joy, however, has been in baking and cooking meals. He loves carrot and chocolate cakes and mincemeat pies and says he spent years cooking them for his family and friends.
“I guess it’s the chemist in me,” he said laughing.
Sullivan was born on the Eastside of Indianapolis and reared in a home with three brothers and a sister. He went to Little Flower and Phillips Cathedral, both parochial schools. He said one of the greatest gifts to him from his parents was an education at Cathedral High School, where his love of history and science was nurtured.
Shortly before he graduated high school in 1944, two teachers called him to their office to encourage him to further his education in organic chemistry. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, he returned to Indiana and graduated from Notre Dame in 1950 with a major in organic chemistry. He received a graduate degree from Temple University in Pennsylvania in 1951.
Sullivan married his sweetheart, Betty, in 1948 and worked for Mobile developing synthetic oil. Three years later, he was offered a position at Eli Lilly in the organic chemistry program where he worked on patent teams creating medications.
He had a personal reason for his interests in antibiotics. He is allergic to penicillin and wanted to find an antibiotic that people allergic to penicillin could take without fear of a reaction, he said. This led to his work on Ceclor.
Sullivan said Darvon was developed after six attempts. The patent was sold to a manufacturer who modified its chemical makeup. That led to it not being prescribed today, he said.
During the late 1960’s many women, primarily in Europe, were delivering infants with birth defects that were believed to be caused by medications. The United States government asked Lilly to study the effects of medication once it was ingested.
Sullivan said his work on this project led to the understanding that medications must be water soluble, and if they are not the body must convert the medication into a water soluble product that will not harm the fetus. He worked on this project until his retirement in 1988.
His work came with costs. Sullivan developed many allergies related to his exposure to various chemicals. His family said he once took a dose of Ceclor for a sinus infection and went into anaphylactic shock. His neighbor gave him first aid that he said saved his life. He chuckles recalling that incident, saying that once again he found another allergy that he wasn’t aware he had.
He and his wife Betty had five children: Hugh Sullivan III, Kathleen, Mark, Marianne and Kevin. Both were very active in their church until Betty passed away in 1996. In the summer of 1997, he met his second wife, whose name was also Betty, at a church retreat in southern Indiana. She passed in December 2013.
Sullivan has served on the Board of Trustees of Cathedral High School for 12 years and is now an emeritus trustee. In 1997 he was given the Man of the Year award by Cathedral High School. In 2001 he received the Award of the Year honor from Notre Dame.
When asked about his dedication to his high school, he gives the school much credit for his success, “They did great work. Look at me! I can never say thank you enough.”