Obituary: Robert Glaser / Pitt's Learning Research and Development Center founder was an inspiration
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Robert Glaser is renowned in the academic world for co-founding the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, but many of his achievements aren't the kind you'll see on paper.
"When LRDC was formed, there were half a dozen centers like that all being spun off from Washington," said Carnegie Mellon University psychology professor David Klahr. "By any reckoning, it is the most successful of all of them. I think a lot of that is owed to Bob's talent and skills."
The LRDC is a nationally recognized institution that has been bringing together leading researchers in the cognitive, social and educational sciences since 1963.
Mr. Glaser authored and edited more than 20 books and 220 articles in his five-decade career focusing on the psychology of learning, cognition and instruction. Among a slew of honors, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and served as president of the American Educational Research Association.
His impact is also evident by the emails and calls Pitt has received from as far away as the Middle East to Belgium as his former students learned of his Saturday death after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 91.
"There's an awful lot of people around the world who owe their careers to him," said Alan Lesgold, dean of the Pitt School of Education.
Mr. Lesgold, who was recruited to Pitt by Mr. Glaser in 1971, said he set a high standard of quality for the LRDC.
"There was never a script of mine that he didn't have a few more suggestions on," he said. "That really set a standard of 'work on it till you get it right.' "
His work ethic, he said, made others around him better.
"We all worked pretty hard because Bob worked even harder," Mr. Lesgold said.
Mr. Glaser studied at The City College of New York after growing up two miles from Yankee Stadium in New York.
He served a tour with the Army in World War II and helped conduct psychological testing on men who were training to become bombers.
He met his wife, Sylvia Lotman, in a two-person elevator in the psychology building at Indiana University Bloomington, where they were both in graduate school studying under B.F. Skinner.
The couple married and then moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1950s when he received a job at the American Research Institute.
Mr. Glaser took the position of associate professor of psychology at Pitt in 1956. He continued to teach at the university as a psychology and education professor and directed the LRDC for more than 30 years.
Like many academics, it was difficult for Mr. Glaser to put his work down.
His wife once planned a vacation rafting down the Colorado River just to get him to leave his briefcase at home.
In his spare time, his daughter, Karen Glaser of Chicago, said, "he would come home and mix himself a Bombay gin martini with a twist and he would put his feet up and read a paper, a research paper."
Ms. Glaser, who describes her father as a "brilliant man," said he also enjoyed mystery and detective novels, and loved "Star Trek."
Jim Greeno, a visiting professor at Pitt and longtime friend of Mr. Glaser, said he often said research was his hobby.
Mr. Greeno made sure to bring a draft of whatever he was working on when he visited him, and even up until the end, Mr. Glaser provided insightful feedback.
Mr. Glaser was preceded in death in 2001 by his wife and is survived by a sister, Irma Kemp of New York; daughters Ellen DeBenedetti of Pittsburgh and Ms. Glaser; two grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
A memorial service for Mr. Glaser is scheduled for March 10 at 1 p.m. in the Heinz Memorial Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh campus.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900 or www.alz.org or to Pitt's LRDC.
First Published February 8, 2012 12:00 am