Nov. 30, 2021 — James Free, M.D., a member of the University of Florida College of Medicine’s first graduating class and the man behind the naming of Gatorade, passed away Oct. 24 at age 87.
Born in Kentucky, Free became the first in his family to attend college when he completed his undergraduate studies at UF. He was one of 47 students hand-picked by the UF College of Medicine’s first dean, George T. Harrell, M.D., to join the college’s inaugural class, becoming a double Gator upon graduating with his medical degree in 1960.
Following a residency at Grady Hospital in Atlanta and two years of service in the U.S. Air Force, Free returned to Gainesville to work as an internist and lab researcher with J. Robert Cade, M.D. When trainers for the Florida Gators football team approached Cade’s lab to understand why players were dehydrated during games, Cade and Free, along with Dana Shires, M.D., and Alejandro de Quesada, M.D., studied and tested the players, ultimately creating the famous Gatorade sports drinks still consumed by athletes more than half a century later.
One day in the lab, Free wrote on a sign: “Dr. Cade’s lab: Home of Gatorade, handmade by licensed physicians.” It was the first use of the name, and it stuck.
Free later said in an interview that he and his co-inventors could not have guessed just how big Gatorade would become.
“We thought it was exciting and we thought it was a product that would be commercially available, but we had no sense of what it would develop into,” he said.
Free, who practiced internal medicine in Clearwater for 30 years, was an attentive doctor who was devoted to his patients and to encouraging medical students to enter the field of primary care. In 2011, he and his wife, Carole, established the H. James Free, M.D., Center for Primary Care Education and Innovation, which is committed to Free’s passion for primary care and the physician-patient relationship.
The gift also initiated the construction of a new medical education building, which he chose to name in honor of Harrell, the college’s first dean and a beloved mentor.
Read more about Jim Free and his impact as a physician in the 2022 edition of Florida Physician magazine.