BA (hons), MA (hons), PhD, DSc (Sydney)
Peter Wenderoth was born in Sydney on 28 February 1942 and received his undergraduate degree in psychology at The University of Sydney in 1963 and an MA in 1968. Ross Day was appointed to the chair of Psychology at Monash University, Melbourne in 1964 and was joined by Ian Curthoys and Max Coltheart, and Peter followed as a Senior Teaching Fellow in 1966. I first met him at Monash, and we remained in contact from that time. The new department at Monash was a stimulating environment, and Peter’s research there was on slant aftereffects. He moved to a lectureship at Sydney University in 1969 and was awarded his PhD in 1974; he was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1973 and to Reader in 1979. He was appointed Professor at Macquarie University in 1994 and acted as Head of the Department of Psychology as well as Deputy and Associate Dean. He was awarded a DSc in 1991, and in 1996 was elected as a Fellow of both the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia and the Australian Psychological Society. In addition to his editorial work for Perception, he served on the editorial board of Psychological Science from 2003 to 2007. He attended meetings of ECVP whenever possible, and he is shown below talking to Lesley Sackett at a Perception editorial board reception held at Arezzo in 2007.
Peter Wenderoth’s research interests were in spatial perception. The topics he examined included visual illusions (and the Poggendorff illusion in particular), tilt and motion aftereffects, induced motion, rod-and-frame illusions, visual symmetry, and binocular rivalry, publishing more than 140 journal articles and book chapters. His research was marked by psychophysical precision and a penchant for interpretations of phenomena in terms of the putative underlying neurophysiology. Peter was an inspirational teacher, and his infectious enthusiasm encouraged many of his students to pursue similar paths; this might prove to be his greatest legacy.
Peter was a complex character, who was noted for his forthrightness. He enjoyed a type of comradery familiar to older Australians, but now less common. A friend of mine, who had Eysenckian leanings, said on first meeting Peter that he was a rare type—a neurotic extravert! Indeed, he could appear abrasive, particularly to his students, but this masked a generosity of spirit. When someone in need was brought to his attention, he could be most supportive. On one occasion a graduate student was struggling financially, due to an administrative delay; Peter responded by paying the student out of his own pocket for a couple of months. This anecdote captures not only his compassion but also his dedication to fostering successive generations of budding vision scientists.
Anecdotes regarding Peter abound. They reflect his passions, his self-deprecating humour, as well as his seeming insensitivity to the consequences of his actions and statements. One of the characteristics he adopted from Ross Day was a desire to keep abreast of the perceptual times so that he could discuss the latest developments in the field. On one visit to the library in Dundee University, long before the personal computer revolution, he confessed that he had never been so out of date with consulting current journals, in this case three weeks! Peter was greatly influenced by Ross, to whom he expressed the following appreciation when introducing a special issue of Perception that was essentially a Festschrift: 'I can thank Ross for saving me from being a part-time Arts student aiming to work in advertising and market research, for it was his remarkable ability to enthuse his undergraduate Honours students in the thrills of perceptual phenomena which led so many of us into the perceptual arena' (Wenderoth, Perception, 1993, page 1006). Peter absorbed and adapted Ross’s ethos and passed it on to his own students. He also shared with Ross a taste for fine wine; a love of language (and its idiosyncrasies), literature, and films; and a rapier wit and a dark sense of humour; but unlike Ross he enjoyed cooking and golf.
Peter was married twice. First was to Helen Beh (1941–2012) in 1970, and they were divorced in 1978. They are survived by their children Jason and Philippa and grandchildren Will, Honor, and Henley. He married Denise Wilson in 1993, and they were divorced in 2003; Sophie was the daughter of that union. He was inordinately proud of his children, and his eyes would really light up when conversation turned to them. He did not enjoy good health for the last two years of his life, some of which he spent in hospital, but he died peacefully at his home on 15 September 2014.
Peter’s most cited paper was published in Perception (Wenderoth, 1994b), and it was an experimental analysis of bilateral symmetry. It would seem, then, appropriate to conclude this account of a life concerned with visual symmetry but suffused by shades of personal asymmetry with a suitably enigmatic ‘perceptual portrait’ of Peter Wenderoth.
Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Malcolm Macmillan, Derek Arnold, Rick van der Zwan, Frans Verstraten, and Denise Wenderoth for their insights.
Nicholas J Wade, School of Psychology, University of Dundee
The above is an extract of a full obituary originally published in Perception 2014, volume 43, pages 1275 – 1278