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Updated 12:30 PM February 14, 2007




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Merle Lawrence

Merle Lawrence, 91, first director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute and professor emeritus of otolaryngology, physiology and psychology, died Jan. 29.

(Photo courtesy Lawrence Family)

Born Dec. 26, 1915, in Remsen, N.Y, Lawrence toured the country with his father the Rev. George Lawrence and mother, Alice, active in the Interchurch World Movement, and attended school in Owosso, Mich., then high school in Ocean City, N.J.

Lawrence earned a doctorate degree from Princeton University in 1941. Because of the threat of war he volunteered to become a Naval aviator, receiving his wings and commission in April 1942.

On Aug. 8, 1942 he married Roberta "Bobbie" Taylor Harper then joined a Navy squadron in the South Pacific. While engaged in combat over the Green Islands with three enemy ships, sinking two and leaving one on fire, his plane was crippled by enemy fire and he was wounded. He was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters, and the Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign medal with three battle stars.

Returning in December 1943, he became one of the earliest (11th) Navy helicopter pilots. He then joined the Princeton University faculty as assistant professor. For a brief period in 1950-51, during the Korean conflict, Lawrence was recalled to active duty as training officer in a helicopter squadron.

Returning to Princeton, Lawrence eventually attracted the attention of Dr. A.C. Furstenberg, dean of the U-M Medical School and chairman of the Otolaryngology Department. Furstenberg invited Lawrence to leave Princeton, join the Medical School and set up a laboratory for physiological acoustics.

Lawrence obtained funds from the Kresge Foundation to build a facility devoted to research on the ear and hearing. This was supported by the Board of Regents, who accepted Lawrence's suggestion that it be called "The Kresge Hearing Research Institute." Lawrence was appointed director, a position he held from 1961-83. During this period, research focused such areas as the circulation of inner ear fluids, the physiological causes of Meniere's disease, blood supply to and the electrical response of sensory cells, and the influence of noise on the distortion products of the ear.

A summary of some of this research was published in 1966 in the book, "The Effect of Over-Stimulation and Internal Factors on the Function of the Inner Ear" —a publication by the University in contract with the Office of the Surgeon General, Department of The Army. In 1967 Lawrence, along with co-authors Matt Alpern and David Wolsk, authored "Sensory Processes," for teaching in psychology—another of several books and pamphlets he published over his lifetime.

Lawrence received numerous academic awards and honors including the Service Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology; Award of Merit, Association for Research in Otolaryngology; Gold Medal Award, American Otological Society; Distinguished Service Award, Princeton Class of 1938; Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, American Academy of Audiology; and others.

For many years he served as consultant for various government agencies and served on the editorial board of the Archives of Otolaryngology, the Journal of Otology and others.

Following retirement in 1985, he and wife spent winters in Vero Beach, Fla., and the Cayman Islands. Lawrence was an avid amateur radio operator, scuba diver and underwater photographer and a recreational glider pilot.

He is survived by Bobbie, his wife of 64 years; three children: Linda Lawrence of Ann Arbor, Roberta Henderson of Bloomfield Hills, and James Lawrence of Ann Arbor; five grand children; and nine great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers remembrances may be made to the Merle Lawrence Research Fund, U-M Medical School, Kresge Hearing Research Institute, 1301 E. Ann St., Ann Arbor, 48109-0506. The family received friends at a memorial reception, Sunday, Feb. 11 at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Colton, in Ann Arbor.

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