Remembering Professor Emerita Phoebe S. Liebig

Liebig, who passed away February 24, 2021, was a celebrated gerontology educator and expert on public policy for older adults.

Professor Emerita Phoebe Stone Liebig, celebrated gerontology educator and expert on public policy regarding aging, passed away February 24, 2021, at the age of 87.

“Through her life and her work, Phoebe Liebig’s impact on the USC Leonard Davis School and the field of gerontology cannot be overstated,” said USC Leonard Davis School Dean Pinchas Cohen. “Her research and advocacy around age-friendly policies and the importance of creativity improved the lives of countless older adults and the example she set as a lifelong learner who pursued her passions and interests leaves a legacy we all should emulate.”

Liebig was born on December 28, 1933 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to mathematician Marshall Harvey Stone and artist Emmy (Portmann) Allen. Liebig studied at Radcliffe College from 1951 to 1954 prior to moving to Los Angeles, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in 1955 and master’s degree in 1956 at UCLA. Following graduation, she worked in UCLA’s classics department and taught for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

She married Anthony E. Liebig on June 19, 1954. The couple welcomed a son, Steuart Anthony, in 1956 and divorced in 1961.

Her work at USC began after meeting her future mentor Jim Birren, the founding director of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center and first dean of the USC Leonard Davis School. In 1971, she became a grants specialist for the Andrus Gerontology Center. After completing her Ph.D. in Public Administration at USC in 1983, she joined the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology faculty as a research assistant professor.

As a faculty member, Liebig took on numerous leadership roles, including directing the USC Pacific Geriatric Education Center, directing information outreach for the USC Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, and being a co-principal investigator of the USC Fall Prevention Center of Excellence. Along with her work at the Leonard Davis School and USC, Liebig also spent two years as a senior economics policy analyst for the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Among her many honors, Liebig received two Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards and was named a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. She was also a recipient of the Clark Tibbitts Award, Distinguished Teacher Award, and Mildred M. Seltzer Distinguished Service Recognition Award of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education as well as an AGHE Fellow.

In 2015, Liebig received the Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award during the 34th Annual USC Academic Honors Convocation. “I was a ‘late bloomer,’ having gotten my PhD when I was 50, so although I was in the field of gerontology for many years before that, I had less time to establish a lengthy academic career,” Liebig remarked at the time.

Her pre-retirement research largely focused on public policies and their effects on older adults in communities throughout the U.S. and across the world, including Fulbright-supported study in India. Over the years, she also encouraged her many student mentees to address the effects of public policy in their own research and take an active role in advocating for evidence-based policies in government, especially at the local and state level.

After retiring from USC as an associate professor emerita in 2006, Liebig remained a familiar presence at USC and the Leonard Davis School, serving as president of USC’s Retired Faculty Association from 2011 to 2014 and as a member of the USC Emeriti Center Advisory Committee for several years.

In retirement, her research focused on creativity and aging. She continued to publish journal articles and book chapters as well as present at professional meetings on aging in India, aging in place, nursing home deficiencies, the humanities and aging, and more. She also served on the editorial boards of The Gerontologist and the Journal of Aging & Social Policy as well as several committees within the Gerontological Society of America and Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

In addition to her gerontology work, Liebig was an avid gardener, birdwatcher, and singer; she was especially passionate about Medieval and Renaissance music. She was a member of the Jouyssance Early Music Ensemble and the Foundation of the Neo-Renaissance and served as a board member for the foundation from 2001 to 2007. She was a devoted mother and grandmother to Steuart, daughter-in-law Leslie Rosdol, and grandchildren Anya Liebig and Aron Liebig.

Colleagues and former students celebrated Liebig as not only a brilliant gerontologist but also a devoted friend and mentor. Caroline Cicero, an instructional associate professor of gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School, now teaches the same course in which she first met Liebig as a student.

“Phoebe was a brilliant mind; a fantastic mentor and teacher to me and countless others; an aging policy specialist; avid music lover; enthusiastic gardener; creative soul; relentless stickler for grammar, editing, and document perfection; visionary thinker; world traveler; faithful gift giver; wellness, healthy eating, and health advocate; and wise advice-lender,” Cicero said. “When I, as a new PhD student, suddenly faced cancer and chemotherapy, Phoebe visited me at home often, brought food and gifts to my two small children, and always had sage recommendations about navigating health care, academia, and motherhood.”

USC Professor of Architecture and Gerontology Victor Regnier remembered Liebig as funny, outgoing, and extremely intelligent.

“Phoebe Liebig was the first person I got to know well when I joined the gerontology center in the late summer of 1971,” he said. “When you became a friend of Phoebe’s, it was for life; you could always expect a birthday and Christmas card. She was like a big sister to me, always pointing out what to pay attention to and what to avoid. … A true friend.”


In lieu of flowers Professor Liebig’s family requests that donations be made in support of the USC Phoebe Liebig Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Checks can be made out to the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology with Phoebe Liebig Endowed Scholarship written on the memo line.

Please send checks to:

USC Advancement Gift Services
Phoebe Liebig Endowed Scholarship
1150 South Olive Street, 25th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90015

For information please call (213) 740-1360

16 thoughts on “Remembering Professor Emerita Phoebe S. Liebig

  1. Phoebe left us with a wonderful legacy . I personally owe her my change in direction into Gerontology and Geriatrics.

  2. As a longtime student in my yoga class, Phoebe was loved by everyone. She always brought gifts from her garden and yoga cartoons to share, supporting and inspiring others in yoga practice, and adding dry humor to lighten moods and hearts.

  3. Phoebe was a friend I will never forget in this life. She was full of fun, sage advice, and the giver of gifts, especially her caring that arrived in the mail at every birthday, anniversary, holiday. When I found she was so ill what I could give back after all those years of her reaching out was to reach back to her family with the skill I have in teaching geriatric care management and to help her family, who she loved so much, navigate to her death. It was a drop of love compared to the love my family and I received from Phoebe.

  4. hi,

    thanks for this.

    one small quibble:

    while she *might* have had jeff birren in a middle school class, i don’t think that’s what happened.

    i met bruce birren in elementary school when the birrens first moved to los angeles. we were fast friends from the ages of 8 to 12 or so; spending a lot of time at each other’s houses. i’m pretty sure that this is how my mom met jim birren.

    i also would like to point out that my mom loved her grandchildren, aron and anya, and my wife, leslie, a lot.

    1. Condolences Steuart, Leslie, Anya, and Aron. I loved hearing from Phoebe about all of your music, art, studies, work and travels. She shared them with me a lot. I was always so encouraged about the active grandmothering role she took and how she described it to me. So sorry for your loss.

    2. Hello Steuart,
      Thank you so much for your message; I’ve edited the post accordingly. I want to offer my heartfelt condolences to you and your family. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, please feel free to reach out to us at gerocomm@usc.edu or (213)740-0821.
      – Beth Newcomb, USC Leonard Davis Office of Communications

  5. Condolences Steuart, Leslie, Anya, and Aron. I loved hearing from Phoebe about all of your music, art, studies, work and travels. She shared them with me a lot. I was always so encouraged about the active grandmothering role she took and how she described it to me. So sorry for your loss.

  6. What a void loosing dear Phoebe leaves in the hearts of everyone! I met Phoebe in the late 70’s and I can say for sure not one Christmas or birthday slipped by without a beautiful caring card. I will miss sharing with her in so many ways. I loved attending her 🎵 musical 🎶 performances here in Pasadena, in years past her knowledge of food and wine and her love of family!

  7. I am so sorry to hear of Phoebe’s passing. I was one of the lucky students to earn my masters degree in gerontology at USC in the late 90s with her guidance and even had the privilege of working on her research projects. We stayed in touch and became friends and I loved going to her Jouyssance performances. A beautiful woman of great intelligence, many talents, and a huge capacity for love. Rest in peace, Phoebe, well done. My heartfelt condolences to Steuart and all Phoebe’s family. Though we never met, she always spoke of you. She was so proud of her grandchildren.

  8. I am so sorry to hear about Phoebe’s passing. She was one of my early mentors in gerontology; I had the privilege to work with her as part of the PGEC, the Falls Prevention Center, and several other projects. She was a most valuable participant in our Interprofessional Geriatrics Curriculum. I will miss her greatly.

  9. Phoebe was the first person who interviewed me at the Center which lead to my hiring in the mid 70’s. She had a swift red pen in editing grant proposals I wrote which actually taught me how to write and evaluate them.
    A great teacher, friend and mentor who greatly influenced my career. Phoebe never forgot important dates and events. I recall Phoebe always sent me a note on the anniversary of my husband’s death. A true friend in every respect. She was a gift.

  10. If you normally give a few dollars to USC every year–consider this year making a contribution to Phoebe’s scholarship fund. This was important to her! Please contact Gero’s Development Director, David Eshaghpour for more information eshaghpo@usc.edu It is easy to do and is something that helps perpetuates her legacy.

  11. I just found out about Phoebe’s passing. I am heartbroken. Phoebe agreed to take me on as a summer intern in 1997 as part of a Geriatric Summer training program. I learned a lot in that summer and it shaped the path of my graduate work. In addition to a wonderful mentor, I gained a life long friend. Phoebe really cared about her students and stayed in touch long after the school-based relationship ended. I loved getting her holiday and birthday cards, and when we were able to see each other in person, there usually was a gift from her garden (my kids loved that). She loved talking about her family, especially about time she spent with her grandkids and her sister. She touched so many lives and she will be deeply missed. I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with Phoebe. My deepest condolences to Steuart and his family.

  12. I knew something was amiss when I didn’t receive a birthday card nor Christmas card this past year. I first met Phoebe when we both traveled to Europe with the Gregg Smith Singers way back in 1958. I loved her wry sense of humor and her enormous love of music, travel, and her wonderful family about whom she often spoke. She was a wonderful friend in every way and will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences to Steuart and her grandchildren.

  13. I am distraught to only now learn of Phoebe’s death, which explains why my wife Linda and I did not receive Phoebe’s usual holiday greeting. I assume the April Gerontology News will note her passing. I first met Phoebe in 1974, as a new assistant professor in sociology at USC and ensconced at the Andrus Center. True to her nature, she took me under her wings, was always supportive, and provided wise counsel over the years. We also shared similar values about using knowledge to improve the lives of older adults, not just to develop our careers. Phoebe was remarkably gifted and always willing to help others. Her good counsel was always important to me, yet she would make light of it. I know she rests in peace in her special garden, along with an assortment of animals. I will miss her.

  14. For many of us, Phoebe Liebig was the wind beneath our professional wings and I have been truly blessed by coming to know Phoebe as a mentor, colleague and friend. Phoebe’s star was already shining brightly by the day we were seated next to each other on a plane out of Washington DC at the end of a Gerontological Society of America annual conference. I had no idea of how meaningful that first conversation would become or how Phoebe would help to lift my own career as a gerontology educator to higher than I would have anticipated at that first meeting. Over the years since then, I treasure the friendship that grew between us and that I finally got to meet Steuart, Leslie and Anya at the time of Aron’s graduation from the University of Michigan. My heart goes out to you–your loss is greater than ours in so many ways. I am so glad that my Roger got to meet Phoebe and maybe they are having a good conversation right now. Regardless, I will hold each of you and Phoebe in my heart as we all move forward without them here with us in person.

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