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Stanley Gershoff, at 92; founding dean of Tufts nutrition school

Dr. Gershoff was active in the Tufts community long after retiring in the mid-90s.

Kelvin Ma/Tufts University/FILE

Dr. Gershoff was active in the Tufts community long after retiring in the mid-90s.

Whether working with colleagues at Tufts University or driving his daughter around as a child, Stanley Norton Gershoff entertained and educated with tales and narratives that were filled with humor and knowledge.

“Everyone who knew him knew that he loved to tell stories about his life,” said his daughter, Carrie, who graduated from Tufts in 2016. “He lived such an interesting life, and he always had some kind of anecdote that he wanted to share with people.”

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Along with those stories, over the years he shared his vision of making nutrition and wellness attainable. At Tufts, he merged the academic disciplines of public policy and nutrition to create a unique program that became the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

“He was a very human figure, despite everything that he did,” his daughter said. “What always stood out to me was how even though he had accomplished all these really great things he was always such a figure of guidance to all these people.”

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Dr. Gershoff, the founding dean of Tufts University’s nutrition school, died in his Oakland, Calif., home March 11 from complications of kidney failure. He was 92 and had lived in California for more than 20 years with his wife and daughter.

When he became dean, he brought to the job an uncommon perspective. He was a “quintessential academic” at the “cutting edge,” said Sol Gittleman, who was provost at Tufts for more than 20 years and oversaw much of the work Dr. Gershoff did at the university.

“Stanley was interested in keeping people healthy, and that’s different from disease,” Gittleman said. “Stanley used to say, ‘The doctor’s interested in taking your leg off. I’m interested in keeping your leg on.’ ”

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Gittleman added that Dr. Gershoff “was one of the absolute senior acolytes, the senior participants in this revolution that created the whole field of wellness.”

Dr. Gershoff remained active in the Tufts community long after retiring in the mid-1990s. In September 2015, he spoke at a symposium about the history of the Friedman School, describing how it grew and changed during its early years. “When I retired as dean in 1993, the school had over 100 students, 65 faculty members, programs in 18 third-world countries,” he told the audience, adding: “I’m proud of this legacy.”

The older of two siblings, Dr. Gershoff was born in New York City to Abraham Gershoff and the former Carrie Matfes. His younger sister, Marjorie Feinberg, died in 2013.

Graduating early from high school in New York, he went to the University of Wisconsin, where he was still in his teens when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry in 1943.

After college, he joined the Army as a medic for three years during World War II and was stationed in the Pacific. His daughter said that when Dr. Gershoff told stories about serving in the military, he never focused on the fears or struggles he experienced, and instead highlighted the “really wonderful shared experience” that came with serving his country.

“He was a really positive person, and I think that really showed through everything he did,” she said.

Returning home after the war, he continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin, receiving a master’s in 1948 and a doctorate in 1951, both in biochemistry. He taught at Harvard University before being recruited in the late 1970s to start a nutrition program at Tufts. The program was first a graduate department and then a nutrition institute, before it became the School of Nutrition in 1981.

After Dr. Gershoff retired, Tufts honored him by creating the Stanley N. Gershoff Professorship of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Stanley N. Gershoff Scholarship, and an annual Stanley N. Gershoff Symposium.

“He was pivotal in moving nutrition forward at Tufts,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, who holds the professorship in Dr. Gershoff’s name. “He made some bold moves by going outside the boundaries of the traditional discipline of nutrition.”

At various points in his career, Dr. Gershoff also served as a scientific consultant to the White House, the US Department of Agriculture, UNICEF, and other governmental and nongovernmental agencies, his family said. Dr. Gershoff wrote “The Tufts University Guide to Total Nutrition.” He also developed and, until 2000, edited the “Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.”

In the 1970s, Dr. Gershoff did research in Thailand, where he studied the effects of adding amino acids to the rice that fed children, and also helped establish day-care centers for the children.

His wife, Dr. Marilyn Crim, who is also a nutritionist, said he took joy in knowing he left behind something of value in his field of research.

“His claim to fame was how he was able to integrate social science into nutrition in a way that really expanded its impact on the world,” she said, adding that “he definitely had a vision that was different.”

Crim and Dr. Gershoff met in 1974 during a conference in Florida. Upon arriving at the airport to return home, each switched flights, hoping to make it onto the other’s plane, without realizing that they both had the same idea. When Dr. Gershoff discovered the mix-up, he waited for Crim at the airport and drove her home. “We’ve been very fast friends since that period,” she said.

They married in 1989, and Dr. Gershoff later became a stay-at-home father for Carrie, giving him a “family life that he had never had,” Crim said.

“He had been friends and ‘Uncle Stanley’ to a huge number of children of friends of his,” she added. “He has a huge volume of ‘Uncle Stanley’ relatives, but having his own child and being very actively involved in her upbringing brought a life to him that he had never even imagined.”

A service has been held for Dr. Gershoff, whose wife and daughter are his only immediate survivors. He also will be honored at a private memorial at the Friedman School on June 29.

Inside and outside of his career, Dr. Gershoff was loyal to friends and family, and he enjoyed bringing people together. He often invited others to spend time with him in Mashpee, where he had a home built in the 1970s, friends and family recalled.

“One thing about Stan was that when you became his friend, you became his friend for life,” Lichtenstein said, “and frequently, your whole family would become his friend.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com.
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