Robert Perloff was distinguished service professor emeritus of business administration and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
That's quite a mouthful. But in academic circles, Mr. Perloff was known quite simply as the father of consumer psychology, the study of how and why people buy what they do -- professionalizing a relatively arcane field that today drives billions of dollars' worth of business decisions.
A Shadyside resident, Mr. Perloff died Monday of heart failure at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. He was 92.
He was, however, much more than a professor who mentored generations of students, or a World War II hero who saw combat in the Philippines, president of innumerable committees, boards and organizations -- including, most notably, the American Psychological Association.
He also was a tireless, ardent, prolific writer of letters and essays, published mostly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial pages -- and once in The New York Times -- on everything from the greatness of Dr. Spock ("a sui generis piece of work") to the snootiness of the term "Harvard MBA" (a "bloated and grandiose imprimatur") to the anti-slavery history behind the Stephen Foster statue in Oakland.
His son, Richard Perloff, described his father as a "Teddy Roosevelt" figure -- a bit blustery but endearing, "a gadfly characterized by fervent opinions that also showcased a verbal bonhomie."
"He was larger than life," said Brian Blake, a former student of Mr. Perloff's at Purdue University who went on to become a professor there and at Cleveland State University. "He was just a salt of the earth guy, who was the best kind of example of how to be a human being."
At Purdue, "he essentially developed what came to be the conceptual framework around studying consumer psychology," Mr. Blake added. "His work at the time was very much about suggesting directions in the field, pointing out that the consumer shouldn't be studied as a collection of conditioned responses, but as a person performing in the role as a consumer."
While Mr. Perloff's work at Purdue, and later at Pitt's Katz Graduate School of Business -- which recruited him in 1969 -- was very much about methodology and statistics, his friends and family described him as a man who loved words (his son remembers one tongue twister in particular, "armamentarium," the tools available to a medical practitioner).
His own education came courtesy of the G.I. Bill after World War II, where he came under fire in the Philippines and earned a Bronze Star. Growing up as a boy in Philadelphia during the Depression, Mr. Perloff peddled newspapers, worked as a soda jerk and movie usher, all to help support his family. When he was 12, his father, Meyer Perloff, committed suicide, and Mr. Perloff would later write an affecting essay about that in the Post-Gazette, mourning the loss of a father who "never got to show me how to shave, to tell me awkwardly about the birds and the bees, to offer fatherly wisdom on how to 'fight city hall' -- to cope with life's adversities."
He also wrote about his mother, Elizabeth Perloff. "It is with remorse and agonizing embarrassment that I now recognize how immature and cruel I was over her lack of education, her primitive ways and her thick Russian accent, thus blinded to the fact that she was very much in touch with life at its core. She epitomized Henry David Thoreau, who said, 'It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.' Her life was indeed 'near the bone.' "
For a man who once declared in an essay that "unalloyed self-interest" should be life's lodestar, Mr. Perloff's last letter to the Post-Gazette was all about reaching out to others.
Published on Dec. 23, 2012, it instructed readers to ignore the bad news and, instead, tell a "precious spouse" she is loved.
"As we wend our weary journey, placing food on the table and paying our endless bills -- activities closer to home than the ponderous front-page newspaper stories peppered with gloom and doom -- expressing our devotion to precious spouses should trump by far fretting uselessly over the sorrowful reports disseminated by the media."
Besides Mr. Perloff's son, Richard of Beachwood, Ohio, he is survived by his wife, Evelyn; two daughters, Linda, of Evanston, Ill., and Judy, of Chicago; and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are by Ralph Schugar Chapel.
Mackenzie Carpenter: 412-263-1949; email@example.com.