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In Memoriam: Herbert A. de Vries, 91

The USC alumnus and emeritus professor of kinesiology, a pioneer in studying the effects of exercise on aging, worked out until his hospitalization in March.

By Pamela J. Johnson
October 9, 2009

A professor of kinesiology in USC College, Herbert de Vries' research focused on the effects of exercise on the elderly. At USC, de Vries was a preceptor at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center and a laboratory chief at the center’s Physiology of Exercise Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Ana de Vries.

A professor of kinesiology in USC College, Herbert de Vries' research focused on the effects of exercise on the elderly. At USC, de Vries was a preceptor at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center and a laboratory chief at the center’s Physiology of Exercise Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Ana de Vries.

Herbert A. de Vries emeritus professor of kinesiology in USC College, known as the father of exercise and aging, has died. He was 91.

De Vries died Oct. 1, eight days before his 92nd birthday, in his Laguna Beach home. He died in his sleep following congestive heart failure, his wife Ana de Vries said.

“I had just finished playing on the piano, ‘Somewhere in Time,’ when the caretaker came over and hugged me, saying, ‘I think Herb is no longer with us’,” de Vries said. “Herb went to heaven in style with musical accompaniment.”

 


Herbert A. de Vries, professor of kinesiology in USC College, was considered the father of exercise and aging. He served as a College professor for 18 years, retiring in 1983, and worked as a USC consultant until 1988. Photo courtesy of Ana de Vries.

De Vries was a USC graduate who became one of the foremost exercise and muscle physiologists of his time. He served as a College professor for 18 years, retiring in 1983 before working as a USC consultant until 1988. He earned his master’s at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was inducted into the 2008 Hall of Honor. He earned his Ph.D. at USC in 1960, becoming a professor in 1965.

He authored or co-authored many books on the physiology of exercise, most notably, Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education and Athletics (McGraw-Hill Higher Education) published in five editions from 1966 to 1994, and Applied Exercises and Sport Physiology (Holcomb Hathaway Publishers, 2003). At 66, he was featured in the Los Angeles Times with his photo depicting him jogging along the beach after he wrote, Fitness after 50 (Scribner Book Company, 1982).

Physiology of Exercise was the best book on the subject for its time,” said Bob Girandola, associate professor of kinesiology who joined USC College in 1973. “It was required reading when I was in grad school.”

Girandola recalled de Vries’ long-term research on residents in the Laguna Beach area, which focused on senior citizens and exercise: “He was a big proponent of stretching as rehabilitation for the aging,” he said. De Vries also conducted extensive research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The two flew together on many trips, to Idaho and other places, de Vries as pilot and Girandola as navigator. “He was an excellent pilot; very precise,” he said. “I always felt safe when I was flying with him.”

Girandola said de Vries enjoyed socializing, recalling the professor’s penchant for draft beer and Mexican food. “He was a really, really good guy,” he said.

John Callaghan, associate professor of kinesiology in the College, was de Vries’ graduate student in 1966. He called his mentor, “A first class fellow and gentleman of the highest order.”

“He was a brilliant man; he knew his subject,” Callaghan said. “At that time, he was among the leading exercise physiologists in the country. His Physiology of Exercise book was the bible in the field.”

 


Herbert A. de Vries (right) conducted research on exercise and aging. Photo courtesy of Ana de Vries.

De Vries also authored many scholarly essays on physical fitness and aging, examining the effects of exercise on the quality of life, and maintaining that the most important outcome of physical activity is stress reduction.

The American Association for Physical Activity, Education and Recreation (AAHPER) named its Herbert A. de Vries Distinguished Research Award after the professor. He was also a member of the AAHPER National Research Council.

De Vries received the Silver Anniversary Award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; the D.B. Dill Honor Award, Southwest Chapter, American Academy of Sports Medicine; and the Citation Award of the American College of Sports Medicine. He was also an American Academy of Physical Education fellow.

He was former vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), an ACSM fellow and a Gerontology Society of America fellow.

At USC, de Vries was a preceptor at the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center and a laboratory chief at the center’s Physiology of Exercise Laboratory.

Raised in the Teaneck-Ridgewood area of New Jersey, de Vries’ father died when he was 14 and he worked throughout high school to help support his family.

“We were hard up against it, but I had a wonderful life in many ways,” de Vries said in 2001. “I was always active, and in the summers when I had a spare minute, I went to the beach. I loved to swim and I was doubly blessed because we also had some terrific lakes in the area.

“One of my favorite things was to get on my bike and ride to the best lake, take a swim, and ride back. It was a 46-mile roundtrip.”

His active youth morphed into a career in the field of exercise science. While he trained with weights and aquatics, he taught swimming and diving.

In 1943, he began his 33 months of active duty as an officer with the Army Air Corps, where he instructed recruits in physical training and served as a navigator. While stationed in central Texas, he began his graduate work in Austin.

Interested in the sciences, he attended the then-USC College of Medicine. During his second year of medical school, his then-wife became ill and he dropped out to take care of his family. He took work operating the Long Beach Swim Club and became a professor at California State University, Long Beach before completing his Ph.D. at USC.

In Southern California, de Vries was also an avid surfer.

“He was surfing long before wetsuits were invented,” Ana de Vries quipped. In addition to being a pilot, he was a voracious reader and dog lover, especially adoring his golden retriever, Courie, named after the cognac, Courvoisier.

De Vries took long walks until his health took a turn for the worse in March.

His widow called him, “a gentleman all the way.”

De Vries will be cremated and his ashes scattered in the ocean, she said.

He is also survived by son Herbert Johnson of La Jolla.

His funeral will take place at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 24, at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley Dr., Laguna Beach, Calif. 92651.

Donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America or the National Parkinson Foundation.