MA, PhD (Sydney). Emeritus Professor (Psychology), La Trobe University

George Singer, DipChem (SydTech), MA, PhD (Sydney), FAPS, FASSA, Foundation Professor of Psychology at La Trobe University, died in Melbourne on 29 July 2009 aged 87, after a long and distressing illness. He was born in Vienna on 28 May 1922, the son of Victor and Helene Singer. At the age of 17 and faced with the prospect of arrimprisonment following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, he left Vienna in 1938 for Britain, and later, Australia. He settled in Sydney, where he remained until his appointment in 1972 to the Foundation Chair of Psychological Science at La Trobe University.

Soon after George arrived in Sydney he enrolled in the Sydney Technical College where he undertook and completed a diploma course in industrial chemistry. After a period employed as an industrial chemist he – in association with a colleague – established and conducted a highly successful business in Bankstown in Sydney’s west, manufacturing soft furniture. Interested in personnel morale, particularly in industrial settings, in 1959 George enrolled in the University of Sydney to undertake the honours course in psychology from which he graduated in 1962. He then pursued an MA, under the supervision of Ross Day, to work on problems of morale among factory workers. Following the award of the degree he began research for his PhD on the influence of suggestibility on judgements, under the direction of Gordon Hammer, receiving his degree in 1966.

After about four years as a lecturer on the staff of the Department of Psychology in Sydney (1964-67), where he worked with Ross Day on perceptual after-effects, George was appointed in 1968 to an associate professorship in psychology at the newly established Macquarie University, where he remained until his appointment in 1972 as Foundation Professor of Psychology at La Trobe University in Melbourne. During 1973-78 he also served as Dean of the School of Behavioural Sciences and as Director of the influential Brain-Behaviour Research Institute (BBRI) which he established in the School.

During his distinguished career at La Trobe, George received many honours. He was elected to Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and Fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he received the Australian Cross (1st Class) for his contributions to science and was appointed as an Honorary Director of the Beijing Behavioural Research Institute. He was also to become increasingly interested in the implications of basic psychological research for ways and means of improving life in the workday world. In this regard he developed and directed a number of research projects associated with health, shift work, stress and the psychological costs of work. He was also an early and strong proponent of the use of mental and physical exercise as a means of circumventing or lessening the effects of degenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Professor Singer was the author of over 200 papers, book chapters and monographs dealing with various aspects of psychology, especially those in psychobiology. He was also a great populariser of psychological knowledge and produced a number of small books and pamphlets designed to acquaint the general public with the findings and applications of brain and behavioural research. He was always a keen and committed educator.

George Singer, from his time in the University of Sydney, was closely involved with the Australian Psychological Society over a period of some 30 years. His first involvement was in the 1960s when he served as Assistant Secretary of the British Psychological Society (Australian Branch). Later, he was to play a significant role in the committee charged with drawing up the Constitution for the new Australian Psychological Society, which was adopted in 1966. He served as the 11th President of the Society 1975-76. However, his main and lasting contribution was the establishment of the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University, now housed in a building that bears his name.

George is survived by Lisl, his wife of 64 years, and their two children, Frances and Gary.

Ross Day and Simon Crowe

This obituary was first published in the La Trobe Bulletin, Spring 2009.