Faculty & Staff

Faculty & Staff

Ira D. Hirsh

Ira J. Hirsh, a retired Washington University professor who was a pioneer in the field of audiology, died Tuesday (Jan. 12, 2010) at a convalescent center in Durham, N.C.  He was 87.

Professor Hirsh played an integral part in the programs at both the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis and at Washington University for more than five decades, before his retirement in 1992.  He was a former director of the institute and dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences at the university.

His research helped explain the way the human brain and ears process and interpret sounds such as speech and music.  The work led to development of improved hearing aids and teaching methods for deaf children.  His textbook, “The Measurement of Hearing,” and more than 100 articles and papers are cited as the basis for research that revolutionized the field.

Ira Hirsh was a star in CID’s constellation of scientists working in hearing and deafness,” said Jerome R. Cox, senior professor in computer science at Washington U’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.  “He was a giant in the deaf education world because of his classic textbook and his many contributions to the field of psychoacoustics.”

Born in New York, Professor Hirsh earned a bachelor of arts from New York State College for Teachers in Albany in 1942.  After completing a master of arts from Northwestern University’s School of Speech, he served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Force during World War II as an instructor in the communications school and in aural rehabilitation.

After earning a doctorate at the Harvard University Psychoacoustic Lab, Professor Hirsh moved to St. Louis in 1951 as a researcher at the Central Institute for the Deaf, along with an assistant professorship of psychology at Washington University.  He was director of the institute from 1965 to 1983, and was named the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Audiology in 1984.

His awards and honors include a gold medal from the Acoustical Society of America, which in 2002 held a symposium celebrating his research contributions.

Professor Hirsh also was a world traveler, wine collector, ice dancer and singer and director with the St. Louis Chamber Chorus and the Bach Society of St. Louis.

Memorial services will be held next month at the university and at First Unitarian Church of St. Louis. Details will be announced later.

Among the survivors are two daughters, Eloise Hirsh of New York City and Elizabeth Hirsh of Salt Lake City; two sons, Richard Hirsh of Chicago and Donald Hirsh of Chapel Hill, N.C.; a sister, Jane Davis of Rochester, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren. His wife of 61 years, Shirley, died in 2004.

Memorial contributions may be made to the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, 5007 Waterman Boulevard, St. Louis, Mo. 63108, or to Washington University, Development Services, Campus Box 1082, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63130.

/Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch January 10, 2010. Written by Tom Uhlenbrock of St. Louis Post-Dispatch./

/Editor’s Note: Ira’s wife Shirley passed away at age 83 on May 25, 2004.  She was a former research worker at CID./