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