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November 30, 2017

Obituary: Rolf Loeber

Rolf Loeber, who gained international renown for his research on the life course of delinquency as distinguished professor of psychiatry, psychology and epidemiology in the School of Medicine, died Nov. 6, 2017.

Through the Life History Studies Program, co-founded and co-directed with his wife and research partner Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, he created three pioneering longitudinal studies. Beginning in 1987, the Pittsburgh Youth Study followed more than 1,500 inner-city boys to chart the development of anti-social behavior through early adulthood, determining its risk factors and its effect on their lives. The Developmental Trends Study, begun in 1989, looked at similar factors among boys who require clinical treatment. The ongoing Pittsburgh Girls Study has been examining more than 2,400 girls’ experiences of delinquency, depression and substance use since 1999.

David Lewis, chair of the psychiatry department since 2009, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and Thomas Detre Professor of Academic Psychiatry, collaborated with Loeber recently on a study of cannabis use in adolescents.

“Rolf was clearly a pacesetter internationally in the origin of several extremely important large longitudinal studies of development,” Lewis said. The data from his studies will remain “of incredible value for assessing many questions.”

His legacy will be “multifaceted,” Lewis added: Loeber’s research findings will continue to inform public policy leading to the decrease of anti-social behaviors and substance abuse in the later lives of youth, while the many investigators he trained will continue his work and move the field in fresh directions.

“He was the epitome of the gentleman and scholar,” Lewis said. “He also had a great sense of humor. It was just enjoyable to work with him on projects.”

Longtime colleague Edward P. Mulvey, a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry who also conducts research on anti-social behavior in youth, said Loeber was “a pioneer” in this area.

“He gave the field a different perspective,” Mulvey said. “He gave the field a new lens for looking at patterns of criminal behaviors. He and Magda together made the field realize that large, ambitious studies were both doable and worth doing.” Such groundbreaking efforts expanded the range of data relevant to examining whether delinquent behaviors abated or continued with adulthood, helping psychiatrists and criminologists make new associations between life course and behavior, he said.

Alison Hipwell, psychiatry and psychology faculty member in the School of Medicine and an investigator in the Life History Studies Program, first met Loeber when he applied to be a visiting fellow at Cambridge University; Hipwell sat on the committee reviewing applications.

“Rolf Loeber had been in the textbooks I was studying,” Hipwell said. “My career was transformed” by this meeting, she recalled. He soon asked her to join the Pittsburgh Girls Study.

“I think he’s extraordinary,” she said of Loeber. “He had an impact obviously not just in our field but in the criminology field as well. In many ways, he was before his time. For him it was so obvious that you have to continue following [kids to adulthood] to understand how on earth you track development. He wasn’t hindered by the practical problems — he saw the bigger vision.”

Stephanie Stepp, faculty member in psychiatry and psychology and investigator in the Life History Studies Program, arrived at Pitt in 2009 to become an investigator on the Pittsburgh Girls Study. She remembered Loeber as “a very big thinker — and he always encouraged people to think big. He was very tenacious and he persisted in seeking what was important.”

Born June 5, 1942, in the Netherlands and earning his initial degrees there, Loeber earned a PhD in clinical psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario in 1972, and joined the Pitt faculty in 1984. He was also a professor of juvenile delinquency and social development at the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Loeber was principal or co-principal investigator for 47 federally funded studies, as well as research sponsored by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, the National Consortium on Violence Research and the Pew Charitable Trusts. He published more than 290 refereed journal articles, as well as dozens of books, book chapters, reviews and invited articles, making him widely cited by both criminologists and psychologists.

Loeber was the recipient of the American Society of Criminology’s Life-Time Achievement Award and the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contribution Award. He was a frequent speaker at international conferences and professional societies’ annual meetings concerning conduct disorder, delinquency and the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders in children.

He and Magda also maintained an active interest in the history of Ireland and its arts; Loeber published a biographical dictionary of 17th-century Irish architects and, together, they produced “A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900,” among other works.


(Read more about Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber in “Crime Scenes” in the fall 2007 issue of Pitt Med magazine.)



Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 8

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