Varro E. Tyler, born and raised in Nebraska, graduated in pharmacy with high distinction from the University of Nebraska in 1949. He attended Yale University as an Eli Lilly Research Fellow the following year. After receiving his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Connecticut in 1951 and 1953, respectively, Dr. Tyler was appointed associate professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacognosy at the University of Nebraska.
In 1957, Dr. Tyler went to the University of Washington in a similar position, was promoted to professor soon after, and also was named director of the Drug Plant Gardens at the university. Awarded the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Memorial Research Fellowship in 1963, Dr. Tyler spent that year as a visiting professor at the Institut für Biochemie der Pflanzen in Halle/Saale, Germany.
Dr. Tyler accepted the appointment as dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences at Purdue University in 1966. When the schools of Nursing and Health Sciences were established at Purdue and combined with Pharmacy in July 1979, Dr. Tyler became dean of the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Health Sciences. In 1984 he served as a visiting professor at the University of Göttingen, Germany. He was Purdue's executive vice president for academic affairs from July 1, 1986, to January 1, 1991, when he returned to the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy to continue his outstanding research career as the Lilly Distinguished Professor of Pharmacognosy.
Dr. Tyler served his profession as first president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (1959-61) as well as president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (1970-71) and the Institute of the History of Pharmacy (1993-95). In 1972, he became a director of the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education and, in 1974, attained the distinction of becoming the first educator elected president of that group. He held that position for four years. Dr. Tyler also was named a Fellow in the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.
From 1968 to 1971, Dr. Tyler was an external examiner in pharmacognosy for the University of Singapore. For five years, from 1971 to 1976, he was a director of the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education.
His scientific interests were many, including medicinal and toxic constituents of higher fungi, phytochemical analysis, alkaloid biosynthesis, drug plant cultivation, and herbal medicine.
Dr. Tyler was the author of 250 scientific and educational publications in various professional journals and was the author of, or contributor to, such books as Pharmacognosy (9th edition, 1988), Experimental Pharmacognosy, The New Savory Wild Mushroom, Progress in Chemical Toxicology, The Honest Herbal (three editions), and Herbs of Choice. One of his most popular books was a study of Indiana folk medicine, Hoosier Home Remedies.
He served on the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of Natural Products (Lloydia), Planta Medica, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Prevention. He was a member of the professional advisory board of the Herb Research Foundation and a contributing editor of Nutrition Forum.
For his ergot alkaloid research, Dr. Tyler won the 1966 American Pharmaceutical Association Foundation Research Achievement Award in natural products. He received the 1977 University of Connecticut Distinguished Alumnus Award for "outstanding service to the profession of pharmacy" and the 1978 Wayne State University Award for Outstanding Contributions to Pharmacy.
Dr. Tyler received an honorary doctor of science degree (1987) from the University of Nebraska and was named the 1995 Distinguished Economic Botanist by the Society for Economic Botany. In 1998 he received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Connecticut; in 1999, he received an honorary doctorate from Purdue University and in 2000 the honorary doctor of science degree from Martin Luther University in Halle/Wittenberg, Germany. He was an honorary member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy and the Society for Medicinal Plant Research.
Active in community affairs, Dr. Tyler served as president of Lafayette Home Hospital and as chairman of the board of directors for North Central Health Services. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. His memberships included Lafayette Rotary Club, Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Psi, Rho Chi, Sigma Xi, Omicron Delta Kappa, Alpha Phi Omega, Phi Kappa Phi, Lambda Tau, Phi Lambda Sigma, and numerous professional organizations.