Hershel Leibowitz

Hershel Leibowitz

1925 - 2011

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Obituary of Hershel Leibowitz

Herschel W. Leibowitz, 85, of State College, died February 13, 2011 at Mt. Nittany Medical Center, surrounded by his family.

He was born in York, Pa., on February 21, 1925, the only child of Lewis and Nettie Wolfson Leibowitz. He married Eileen Wirtshafter on June 12, 1949. He attended school in York and later earned his B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania and M.A. (experimental psychology) and Ph.D. (physiology) at Columbia University. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, 75th Infantry Division, European Theater, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He studied at the Sorbonne after his military service, and then resumed his studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Leibowitz leaves a legacy and list of accomplishments in many fields, including education, philanthropy, government, and family.

An international expert in the field of visual perception, Leibowitz began his career as a faculty member in the Department of Neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin, where he served from 1951 to 1960. He worked for IBM as an advisory psychologist and manager of behavioral research and joined the faculty in the Department of Psychology at Penn State in 1962. He was named an Evan Pugh Professor in 1977 and retired from the University in 1995. He was the author of more than 250 articles in scholarly publications, in addition to a book, "Visual Perception" (1965).

In 2003, the book "Visual Perception: The Influence of Herschel W. Leibowitz" was written by several of his former students and published in his honor. Hersh always said that his greatest professional achievement was the number of students who passed through his classroom on their way to success in psychology and other fields. Over the years his former students have returned to Penn State to celebrate Hersh and his continuing influence on them.

His many awards include the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for the Applications of Psychology (1994), honorary doctor of science from the State University of New York (1991), American Academy of Optometry Prentice Medal (1987), and Pennsylvania Optometric Association Van Essen Award (1987). He was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (1957-58) for research at the University of Munich and a Senior von Humboldt Fellowship (1976-78) for research at the Max Planck Institute for Perception. In 1983, he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Leibowitz served on the editorial board of Psychological Research (1965-88) and Perception and Psychophysics (1969-93). He was a consulting editor for International Journal of Vision Research, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, SCIENCE, Behavioral Research Methods and Instrumentation, Contemporary Psychology, Human Factors, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

He served in many government and public service roles, including consultant to the Veterans Administration, Gallaudet College, Institute for Defense Analyses, Department of the Interior, University of Michigan Infrared Physics Laboratory and Transportation Research Institute, Department of Defense, Institute for Environmental Medicine, Council of Graduate Schools, U.S. Air Force, Pennsylvania College of Technology, and Essex Corporation. He also served on the advisory board of the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Penn State Applied Research Laboratory, Center for Higher Education, National Society to Prevent Blindness, and Life-Sight Advisory Committee. In addition, he was active on the National Research Council Vision Committee, chairing numerous initiatives.

Among the other organizations he served are the National Science Foundation, National Research Council, American Psychological Association (chair, 1991-92; president of Division of Experimental Psychology, 1986-87), NATO symposiums on Image Evaluation and Motion Perception, National Institute of Mental Health, National Eye Institute, American Academy of Optometry, University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry, Aerospace Medical Association, Optical Society of America, Federal Railway Administration, and the American Federation for Aging Research. He served on the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sports Medicine Division's Committee on Visual Performance and Safety.

In 1983, he testified before the U.S. House of Representatives' Sub-Committee on Science, Research and Technology, and in 1990, testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for Defense.

Leibowitz was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Optometry, Human Factors Society, and Optical Society of America, and a member of the International Perimetric Society, Eastern Psychological Association, American Medical Athletic Association, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Society for Scientific Exploration, International Society for Ecological Psychology, American Psychological Society, and Sigma Xi.

Leibowitz and his wife were very active in their community and were generous donors to Penn State and other numerous organizations. In 2003, they were named Penn State's Renaissance Couple of the Year and served as honorary chairs of the Palmer Museum of Art's annual gala. At Penn State, they established the Herschel W. and Eileen Wirtshafter Leibowitz Graduate Scholarship in Psychology and a Lectureship in Psychology in the College of the Liberal Arts. They funded a Leibowitz Family Room at the Centre County Women's Resource Center, CentreLink and Mount Nittany Medical Center. In 2009, together they received the Centre County Community Foundation's inaugural Oak Tree Award in honor of service to their community.

Hersh was an avid runner and completed his first marathon at age 50. He went on to run in hundreds of races and 14 more marathons, including the Boston and New York races.

In addition to his wife of 61 years, he is survived by his children, Marjorie Leibowitz Milgrub and her husband Rick, of State College, and Michael W. Leibowitz and his wife Sandra, of Charleston, S.C. He is also survived by five grandchildren and four great-granchildren: Amy Milgrub Marshall and her husband Brian, and their children, Alex and Lauren, of State College; Adam Milgrub and his wife Michelle, and their children, Jacob and Allie, of Pittburgh; Rebecca Leibowitz, of New York City; Abigail Leibowitz Pearson and her husband Joseph, of Charleston, S.C., and Peter Lempesis, of Charleston, S.C.

Funeral services will be held at Koch Funeral Home at 2401 South Atherton on Wednesday, February 16 at 11 a.m., with Rabbi David Ostrich officiating. The family will be receiving friends at the home of Margie and Rick Milgrub, 160 Sandy Ridge Rd., on Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions in celebration of Hersh's life be made to the Centre County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 648 State College, PA 16804 or to the Foundation for Mt. Nittany Medical Center, 1800 East Park Ave., State College, PA 16801 (or http://foundation.mountnittany.org/commitment) and designated to the emergency department.

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