Summer 2017

The Matchmaker

The school’s first dean supported the union of science and policy.

By Julie Flaherty

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Stanley N. Gershoff campaigned for the creation of the nutrition school, which opened in 1981 and eventually became the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Photo: Mark Morelli

Establishing an independent graduate school of nutrition was a radical idea in the early 1980s, when most nutrition programs were housed in schools of agriculture, home economics or public health. But Stanley N. Gershoff realized early on that good science could drive policy decisions to promote human health and well-being. Gershoff, who died on March 22 at age 92, campaigned for the creation of the school, which opened in 1981 and eventually became the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

As the school’s first dean, Gershoff hired faculty with backgrounds in not only biochemistry and metabolism, but economics, psychology and international relations, hoping to tackle the real-life obstacles that stand between people and a healthy diet. He’d seen the cost of those barriers during his own research, studying vitamin A fortification in Indonesia and amino acid fortification of rice in Thailand.

And, while chairing a panel at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in 1969, Gershoff saw how research could be translated into policies that would help people. “This became big to me,” he said later.

Gershoff came to Tufts from the Harvard School of Public Health, where his lab adjoined that of Jean Mayer, who had run that White House conference. When Mayer became president of Tufts in 1976, he tapped Gershoff to create the Tufts Nutrition Institute in 1977. Four years later, Gershoff presided over its transition into a school. He also worked with Mayer on funding for the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, which was constructed in 1982 on Tufts’ Boston campus.

Elizabeth Cochary Gross, N82, N88, a student in the school’s first class, stayed on for her doctorate and asked Gershoff to be her adviser. “I had such respect for his knowledge of the topic I was to pursue, vitamin B6 and aging,” she said. “He was always ready to help and advise, but I had to leave plenty of extra time for our meetings since he always had a story for every question or problem.”

Now a Tufts trustee, Cochary Gross went on to create a scholarship program in Gershoff’s honor. “He was so proud to have the Gershoff Scholars named after him,” she said, “and I am glad he met so many of them. I am proud to have initiated the program and even prouder to maintain them in his memory.”

After Gershoff retired from Tufts in 1996, the school instituted the annual Gershoff Symposium, which focuses on current issues in nutrition science and policy. “The overlap of these two areas was so important to Dr. Gershoff,” said Cochary Gross, who recently made another gift to endow the symposium in honor of her mentor.

Gershoff himself was always eager to attend the event. “I am so glad that he was around to experience that,” Cochary Gross said. “He loved discussing nutrition issues and giving the closing comments—there were always plenty of stories.”

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