Passings: Paul Herzberg was noted for his exemplary teaching skills

Paul Herzberg
Paul Herzberg

Professor Emeritus Paul Herzberg, a long-serving faculty member at York University, has died.

Prof. Herzberg, who taught statistics in the undergraduate psychology program at York University for more 25 years, died on Dec. 2 at the age of 79.

He joined York University in 1966, serving the University in various capacities in teaching and administration. He was known for his teaching and research in statistics, including the development of visual techniques, simulations of statistical phenomena and more.

Further to his teaching, Prof. Herzberg was noted for developing a psychology statistics course with Professor Ron Sheese using the Kellar Plan of teaching. Over the span of his decades-long career at York, Prof. Herzberg refined this course, teaching it to some 3,000 students in total.

He was recognized for his exemplary teaching skills in 1996 when he was given the Parents’ Association University-Wide Teaching Award. He was also named a senior scholar at the University. He retired in 2002.

Prof. Herzberg was born in Saskatoon on Sept. 23, 1936, to parents Luise and Gerhard Herzberg. Both of his parents were refugees from Nazi Germany, and they both studied at the University of Saskatchewan. They would also both become acclaimed scientists; his mother an astrophysicist and his father a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

Herzbert and his mother, Luise (image: Herzberg Archives, Toronto)
Paul Herzberg and his mother, Luise (image: Herzberg Archives, Toronto)

Prof. Herzberg started down the same path as his parents, earning a BA in physics and mathematics from Queen’s University (1958), a master’s in physics from Princeton University (1961) and then later he switched streams, completing a PhD in psychology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (1967).

During his retirement, he wrote a biography of his mother, highlighting her own accomplishments as an astrophysicist and the challenges she faced as the wife of a world-famous scientist.

PaulHerzbergCoverIn Luise Herzberg, Astrophysicist (York University Bookstore, 2010), Prof. Herzberg describes how his mother met the challenge of combining family and career. When she returned to research in physics and astronomy after the war, she faced nepotism rules and worked largely unnoticed. In the last decade of her life, however, she gained considerable recognition as an astrophysicist. Some of her work is still referred to today, although some is mistakenly attributed to her husband.

In his retirement, Prof. Herzberg worked meticulously to prepare a chapbook of his wife’s poems and botanical drawings. His wife, Louise, died just weeks before his own death.

The cremation and memorial service for Prof. Herzberg will be a private affair, and his ashes will be scattered in a woodland in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Those who wish to honour his life can make donations to the York University Foundation for the benefit of the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections or to a charity of personal choosing.