Fritz Froehlich set a research tone at SCI

Fritz Froehlich, who established the master of science in telecommunications program in what is now the School of Computing and Information (SCI), died on Jan. 8, 2019.

“He had a vision for the telecommunications program that was not just teaching students,” recalled Martin B.H. Weiss, SCI faculty member and chair of the Department of Informatics and Networked Systems. “He wanted us to become well-known for the research work that we did.”

Froehlich arrived at the school in 1987, after years with AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, armed with money from the breakup of the U.S. telephone monopoly and a vision for educating the first generation of IT experts who would compete to replace AT&T’s corporate staff, on whom the U.S. had once depended for their expertise.

He hired Weiss and other future SCI chairs, as well as the faculty member who would eventually succeed him. He was at Pitt for just five years, Weiss noted, “but they were formative.”

“We probably led the school in moving toward a more research-focused approach, because the school was really focused on professional education before,” Weiss said. “A lot of that was motivated by Fritz’s vision and leadership in that area. If Fritz hadn’t set the tone, we may not have gone in that direction. We got there way sooner because of what Fritz did. So it’s a real contribution that he made.”

He remembered Froehlich as “a very intellectual man. He liked things very orderly. His classroom instruction was methodical. He had a capacity for sitting in meetings that far exceeded other people. Sometimes he would achieve his objective by meeting people to death,” Weiss said with fondness. “It’s an artifact of the age he grew up in. The way you got things done is you held meetings about it.”

Born on Nov. 12, 1925 in Worms, Germany, Froehlich earned all his physics degrees at Syracuse University: a bachelor of science in 1950, a master of science in 1952 and a doctor of philosophy in 1955.

Memorial information posted by his alma mater calls him “a brilliant scientist leading the development of the first commercial modem and mag stripe card reader (as) a scientist and department head at Bell Labs.” It notes that he was also the editor of the 18-volume Encyclopedia of Telecommunications.

The SCI’s Fritz Froehlich Scholarship is presented annually to a student who demonstrates outstanding contributions to the program Froehlich founded.

He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Eileen; son Phillip; daughter Georgine Scharff; grandchildren Ilana Lipman, Justin Binder, Joshua Scharff and Jason, Robin, Stephen and Michael Froehlich; and seven great-grandchildren. Memorial contributions are suggested to the Fritz Froehlich Scholarship; the American Friends of Magen David Adom, c/o Betty Remmlinger, 9417 Aston Gardens Ct., Apt. 206, Parkland, FL; or Hadassah.