For 49 years, Herb Pick was a scientist and mentor at U

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2012 - 12:19 AM

In the academic world, Pick is widely credited with creating a field of study called spatial cognition.

Herb Pick

For nearly half a century, graduate students arriving at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development often were greeted by an unassuming man who helped carry in their boxes.

As they settled in, the new students soon discovered that the nice old guy they mistook for a janitor was, in fact, the famous Prof. Herbert L. Pick Jr.

Or "Herb," as he preferred to be called.

"He was one of the best scientists and also one of the most humble guys you'd ever meet," said Megan Gunnar, director of the institute. "He packaged those two things together. He also was a fabulous teacher and mentor."

Pick, of St. Paul, died Monday, apparently of natural causes, while on his way to work. He was 82.

On the last day of his life, he did a most unusual thing, said his daughter Cindy Pick: He drove to work instead of riding his bike.

"He biked everywhere," she said. The professor and his bike were a familiar sight around campus, even in the winter months.

In the academic world, Pick is widely credited with creating a field of study called spatial cognition. It's the study of how adults and children think about space and how they reason about space, explained John Rieser, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University who wrote many papers with Pick. "He did among the first studies with children on how they find their way around," Rieser said.

Pick excelled not only at research but also at teaching.

Among his awards: the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Mentoring Award and the Outstanding Faculty Award from the U's College of Liberal Arts.

Generations of students accompanied Pick, a lover of the outdoors, on annual winter camping trips with colleagues to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Pick was born in Newark, N.J., to a father who sold life insurance and a mother who was a professional cook.

He went to Cornell University, where he played football. After graduating, he served in the Navy. He returned to Cornell and earned a doctorate in psychology. While at Cornell, he met a young woman named Anne and they were married. He worked for a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before coming to the University of Minnesota to teach.

Pick officially retired last fall, but continued to work for the institute as a professor emeritus. On the Sunday before he died, he gave his grandson a "buck" on his bike and later hosted a picnic for 20 students.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at the MacMillan Auditorium in the Oswald Visitor Center at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.

In addition to his daughter Cindy of Minneapolis, Pick is survived by his wife, Anne Pick, of St. Paul; a sister, Barbara Young, of Phoenix; daughters Karen Pick, of Ely, Minn., and Gretchen Pick, of Minneapolis; and eight grandchildren.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

  • "He was one of the best scientists and also one of the most humble guys you'd ever meet."
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