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Victor Denenberg, emeritus professor of psychology, dies

by Sherry Fisher - August 25, 2008


Victor Denenberg, an emeritus professor of psychology, died July 19 at 83. He lived in Issaquah, Wash.

After graduating from high school, Denenberg served in the U.S. Army in the 95th Infantry. He was wounded in action during World War II, after which he attended college on the GI Bill. He graduated from Bucknell University in 1949, and earned his master’s, and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Purdue University.

In 1969, as a tenured professor at Purdue, he was recruited to a newly created program in biobehavioral sciences at UConn, where he served as professor and acting head/coordinator, from 1984 to 2000.

Benson Ginsburg, professor emeritus of psychology, says Denenberg was a pioneer in his field.

“Vic’s teaching and research attracted many able graduate and postdoctoral students to the biobehavioral sciences, and later, the psychology department,” Ginsburg says. “He considered his students to be part of his extended family, and maintained close personal and professional contact with them for the remainder of his career.”

Stephen Maxson, professor of psychology, says Denenberg had a “boyish enthusiasm for living and enjoying all of life. Professionally, he was a very exceptional and highly productive experimental psychologist.”

Maxson recalls a conversation he had with Denenberg about differences between humans and animals: “I said that humans had language and animals did not. Vic responded that he thought there might be a quantitative but not qualitative difference in this between ourselves and some animals. This conversation may have been part of his incentive to develop an animal model for some aspects of human dyslexia, which is a dysfunction in human language.”

Denenberg enjoyed teaching and conducting research. He referred to his students as one of his major accomplishments, as they represented the future and would carry on the teaching and research.

His students say they loved his wit and intelligence and his willingness to work with them.

He published some 400 scholarly papers and chapters, including several statistical texts. He served on various national committees relating to early development, and spoke nationally and internationally at many conferences.

He was a reviewer for scholarly journals, and received substantial funding to support his ongoing research on the early development of the brain and behavior. He was a founding member of the Society for Neuroscience.

Denenberg retired from UConn in 2000, and accepted a position as visiting professor at the University of Washington.

He loved to ski and enjoyed cooking Chinese meals.

He is survived by his wife Evelyn Thoman, also an emeritus professor of psychology, three daughters, six stepchildren, and grandchildren.

He was predeceased by an infant son, and a daughter. Memorial contributions may be made to the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party.

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