Stanley N. Gershoff, the first dean of the nutrition school at Tufts and the matchmaker behind its unique marriage of science and policy for the betterment of world health, died on March 11 at his home in Oakland, California. He was 92.
With the support of Tufts’ president—his longtime friend Jean Mayer, a nutritionist—Gershoff campaigned for the creation of the school, which opened in 1981 and eventually became the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Dariush Mozaffarian, the current dean, said Gershoff was a visionary leader and scientist. “He was also a gentleman and, throughout his life, a staunch supporter and advocate of our school. His legacy is remarkable.”
Forming an independent graduate school of nutrition was a radical idea in the early 1980s, when most nutrition programs were subservient afterthoughts housed in schools of agriculture, home economics or public health. As Gershoff told the Milwaukee Journal in 1981, “The problem with those arrangements is the scope of activities is very much dictated by the school it’s in.”
To counter that, Gershoff hired faculty with backgrounds in economics, psychology, international relations and other social sciences, hoping to tackle the real-life obstacles that stand between people and a healthy diet. He saw those barriers during his own field research in Asia, where he studied vitamin A fortification in Indonesia and amino acid fortification of rice in Thailand. Domestically, he visited poor Americans in their homes, where he discovered that many did not know about resources such as the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, and that food stamp offices sometimes were not listed in the phone book. “One has to be a bit warped to provide a program and not inform the people it was designed to help,” Gershoff told a congressional committee in 1986.
“He was a warm and genuine and brutally honest person,” said Alice Lichtenstein, who holds an endowed faculty position, the Gershoff Professorship, at the Friedman School. “He said what he felt,” she added, recalling the choice words he had for her when he was trying to teach her to fish and she proved too squeamish. Fishing, and his longtime summer home in Mashpee, Massachusetts, were two of his passions.