Piero P. Foa --- Eulogies
by Richard Katz
by Helen Katz
by Mahmoud Masoud
by Richard Foa
by Jason Foa
by Joseph Dunbar

Piero P. Foa --- Obituaries
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Remarks by Richard Foa Katz, grandson to Piero P. Foa

Thank you for being here.

We’re together today to commemorate the remarkable life of Piero Foa.  In a strictly biological sense, Piero is no longer with us---his body having served him well for 94 years.  In another very real sense, however, Piero lives on.  He lives on in each of us, in the ways that he touched our lives, inspired, challenged and taught us.  Many here can recall a moment of interaction with Piero that left a strong impression, that came to symbolize an important lesson or ideal which has become deeply engrained in our character. It is my great fortune that there have been many such moments in my life.  In celebration of Piero’s life that has ended, and in evidence of his life that continues, I would like to share three of these moments.

As young children, my brother David and I traveled to the Italian Alps with Piero and Naomi, to the town where he spent many summers of his youth.  There, Piero told us of his adventures collecting mushrooms in the forests and climbing the towering, glaciated peaks.  The bravery and exhilarating freedom that was evident in these stories fascinated me.  A story that he found especially amusing described a large aluminum statue of the Madonna bolted to a rocky summit and repeatedly struck by lightning, creating a wide hole in the top of its head. Twenty years later, David and I returned with Naomi and Piero to that town to climb the same peaks that he had ascended more than 50 years earlier.  The views from the summits were as timeless as the exhilaration, fear and humility that we felt being there. From that moment we shared with Piero a special understanding of the awesome power of nature, and of human determination, that can only be learned in the mountains.

When Piero decided that we should build a tree-house, none of us envisioned the large and elaborate structure that he proceeded to design: free-standing high off the ground, with a peaked roof and wrap-around deck.  He drew up plans and organized the “Tree House Construction Crew”, a group consisting of him, David and me, and our friends.  We built it together, from the cement pilings to the roof shingles.  And I remember distinctly a realization that I had at the time: Piero is a doctor, not a carpenter or an architect, and yet he launched this project without hesitation or misstep.  He saw no barriers to what he could understand, create, and accomplish with careful effort.  As I grew up I came to recognize the amazing breadth of Piero’s knowledge. His confidence in the power of the intellect and his undiscriminating and wide-ranging curiosity set an example that I struggle to follow today.

Piero was an enthusiastic and dedicated scientist and teacher.  His passion for a scientific understanding of nature has inspired me for as long as I remember knowing him.  Together we built volcanoes at the beach, collected fossils, looked through the microscope at cells, studied the anatomy and physiology of frogs, and experimented with magnets.  The chemistry lab that he set up in his basement was a magical place where we made soap, poured molten lead into moulds and filled balloons with hydrogen gas.  I remember sitting at the table in Piero and Naomi’s kitchen after a basement chemistry session when I was about 10 years old, learning the meaning and value of Avogadro’s number.  Do you remember where you were when you first learned about Avogadro’s number? Throughout my studies I have learned from good teachers, but no-one has aroused my curiosity, inspired me or excited me with the thrill of science as Piero did.  That inspiration is deeply engrained in me, entwined with his memory.  It is embodied in my doctoral thesis, to be defended on Monday, which is lovingly dedicated to him.

There are myriad ways that Piero’s influence has shaped those gathered here, and many others scattered across the globe.  He lives on in us through the things that we learned from him and in the ways that he changed us. Piero’s lifelong connection with the mountains and the lessons they teach, his unbounded and tenacious curiosity, and his passion for scientific inquiry stand out as important influences for me.  Above all, however, Piero’s love for and dedication to his family and friends, and his respect for his colleagues, his students and, indeed, for all of humanity are what ultimately made him a great man.  And these, above all, are what we commemorate today.  I will miss Piero as my grandfather and my teacher, but as my hero and inspiration, he is alive and well.


Remarks by Helen S. Katz, daughter to Piero P. Foa

Thank you for being here with us this morning to remember my dad and to celebrate his extraordinary life.  We want to share our memories and feelings with each other and with you, honoring his wish for a secular memorial gathering.  Piero identified strongly as a Jew, but he was not religious.  Several of us will make remarks about what dad meant to us and to those lucky enough to share his life, his attention, his love, his creative talents, his boundless curiosity and his passion for teaching.

On behalf of the family, I will give a brief chronology of his life and then talk about Piero as a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. 

I will start with his last day first, because dad did not plan to die last Saturday night.  He spent part of Saturday at his computer, continuing work on his memoirs.  On his tumultuous desk were recent notes about lectures to the medical and graduate students for the coming semester at Wayne.  At the top of a current pile was a draft of remarks he planned to deliver this evening, accepting an honor he at the annual meeting of the Dante Alighieri Society, an Italian cultural society that fed his Italian soul.  His heart stopped, quietly ending his life, as he and mom were getting ready to leave for the symphony.

Notwithstanding his great frustration with a body that was not cooperating; he was active and engaged with his family, with science, with friends and with colleagues – writing, planning and exchanging ideas. During his final year, dad was wheel-chair bound, unable to shower or dress independently and in failing health with need for ever increasing amounts of sleep and ever decreasing amounts of food.  Even so, he had us convinced that he might just be immortal. 

And, he is.  His influence on our lives and his very specific and personal love for each one of us will never leave us. 

Dad was born in 1911.  His 94 years reflected the history of a turbulent world.  As a child during WWI with a father who was a physician and an officer in the Italian army, he and his sister, Ornella, were separated from their parents who were at the front.  His father, Carlo Foa, and grand-father, Pio Foa, were both physicians and professors at the University of Milano Medical school.  Their scientific research inspired his passion for research and teaching and set the bar against which he often measured his accomplishments and failures.  During WWII, Italy’s anti-Semitic laws stripped both him and his father of their university positions, engulfing his entire family in a maelstrom of a world gone mad.  While the rest of his family fled to Brazil for the duration of the war, returning to Italy at its end, dad traveled to the United States as his refuge from the Fascists and Mussolini. Dad was fiercely proud of his Italian heritage.  My brother, Richard, will talk about the profound influences these events had on his life. For now, I just mention them, to bring you to the part where he met my mom and started our small but wonderful family. 

Piero met Naomi shortly after he arrived in the U.S. in 1939.  After a brief stint on a student visa at Yale, he went to Ann Arbor, where he did post-doctoral research at the University of Michigan.  In his laboratory was a beautiful blue eyed American Jewish biochemist named Naomi Levin.  Those were interesting times, as he, Naomi and the others who worked in dad’s lab became his regular research guinea pigs, enduring special diets, frequent blood-draws and urine tests – because rat’s just can’t tell you how they feel. 

This was an unorthodox beginning to a beautiful love affair of more than 64 years.  Naomi and Piero were married in 1941, a year after they met.  The United States became dad’s adopted country, and he loved his life here.

Mom and dad were inseparable in their work, their extensive worldwide travels and in their home lives.  She ably endured some of his less loveable traits. 

He restarted his faculty career at the Chicago Medical School, moving to Detroit to become the Director of Sinai Hospital’s research department and a professor of physiology at Wayne State University Medical School.  Some of his research in diabetes and endocrinology led to seminal works that garnered him international recognition.

Mom and dad traveled, and dad lectured on every continent.  They spent a year helping to establish the curriculum and laboratory protocols at the medical school in Lagos, Nigeria.  They traveled through the back country of pre-Taliban Afganistan with gun-toting drivers and guides.  Together, they traveled to international meetings as guests of state in both the Sha’s Iran and in India.  They went as honored visitors to Japan at the invitation of dad’s former students.  Dad’s life was rich with international friends, students and colleagues.  Holiday cards have always arrived from every part of the world. 

Enter the kids – Dad was nothing if not a nurturing father to my brother and to me, although also a bit of the “infallible” patriarch, like his father and his father’s father.  He was, at times, a pain.

I don’t have specific memories of his particular brand of discipline – probably because I was so good, but I do have many memories of the times he taught us about the wonders of the world.  Nothing was insignificant, and nothing too ambitious.  He engaged us in his exploration of everything from springs, mousetraps and propulsion (he made a cannon for my brother with a mousetrap and toilet paper roll, who proceeded to use it to shoot a sharpened pencil at my derriere) to experiments with chemical actions and reactions.  He found ways to demonstrate our physiological processes (I will spare you the gory details), and he got us to wonder about the relationships among the stars.

Our house was refuge to some of dad’s most beloved laboratory animals, including the dog that became a Foa for many years – Dog “S”, renamed Stanley when he joined the family.  Animals instinctively loved dad and responded to his touch, because he loved them.  One of his favorites was Sweet Pee (that’s spelled P E E), who was a diabetic goat.  All of our subsequent pets knew his special attentions. 

He extended his love for us to all of our school and neighborhood friends, welcoming them to any meal, tree house sleep-over or “shocktail” party (his idea that we have sleep-overs with friends to watch Shock Theater.

Dad delighted in our every step and accomplishment, and he suffered over our puckish missteps and our setbacks. 

He welcomed Marty and Lin into his family with unqualified love.  He gained two more children.  If he missed a trick as a dad or father-in-law, he certainly didn’t as a grandfather.

With the arrival 4 grandsons, Jason, Rob, Rich and Dave, and their first cousins, Jeremy and Kaleo; Piero discovered the center of the earth.  His level of connection, and again, that very individualized expression of love, met each one of them right where they were at any given time in their lives. 

He created spaces and environments that challenged them intellectually and creatively.  He engaged their friends in building a tree house and pithing frogs.  His basement was a mad-scientist’s laboratory of bubbling test-tubes, dangerous tools, bunson-burners, snakes, rats, bugs and creative art.  He delighted in their poison-ivy carpeted fort and in their capture of garden snakes.  Blood was part of life. 

He taught me that it was fine (no – actually good) if the kids got cuts, burns, bites or bruises while using sharp instruments or doing stupid things.   Injury in the pursuit of learning and adventure was just fine – nothing that a hug and a band aid, cast or a mysteriously concocted ointment couldn’t handle. 

He taught his boys how to build real igloos in the dead of winter; smoke and ash-spewing sand volcanoes on the beach in the summer; wine in the fall; and tad-pole to frog or toad environments in the spring.  Their friends thought he was cool.

Piero joined his children and grandchildren in skiing and horseback riding.  It was a particular point of pride that he got free ski passes, because of his age. 

As his grandsons outgrew some of his mad-scientist capers, he welcomed their changes, their growth and their new friends.  He understood their adolescent distancing and moodiness, and delighted in their return, recreating new adult relationships with each one of them.

His was thrilled when Jason and Rob married Kori and Molly, respectively.  They enriched his family and his life.  And, you would think that Jason and Kori had their two beautiful daughters, Maggie and Paige, just for him and mom. 

More than cool grandfather, dad was an inspiration and a muse to my boys.  His influence on Rich and Dave’s chosen paths is evident, as they are pursuing careers in science and medicine.  Until dad’s last moment, they shared their educational insights and accomplishments with him in frequent calls and visits. 

We have wonderful memories of the life he shared with us.  I will miss him.


Remarks by Mahmoud Masoud, friend to Piero P. Foa

The Piero I knew – a loving tribute

It was in 1983 when I first met Piero and it didn't take us long to strike a friendship that remained healthy and strong to the very end. Perhaps it was our common ancestral homeland that contributed to the cementing of  that bond, perhaps it was something else that defies explanation; but he and I knew full well that we were close friends. Early on he showed a genuine interest in me and would seek every opportunity to go beyond formalities and delve into substance. This doesn't mean that our conversations were always smooth and amiable. O no! We had our moments and as a first hand account, there were times when I heard thunder in his voice and saw streaks of lightning in his eyes, not to mention a few select swearing words—sometimes mild, sometimes well seasoned! But we always parted with a firm handshake and a kiss on the cheek!

It is not for me to talk about Piero the scientist because that's beyond me; but I was amazed at the extent of his knowledge of history, which was indeed historic! He would cite events and incidents from the history of the Middle East with names and figures, adding his own analysis and conclusions. He was simply amazing! Unrepeatable! Piero was a brilliant conversationalist who could tackle almost any subject with a natural ease. And there was enough of the child in him to demonstrate now and then a naughty trick or to appreciate a characteristic joke. And yes, he was so original in telling me how he missed me whenever I was absent from a family gathering. Well, how did he do it? He would call me and say "You are a bum" or you are this and that for not coming, and then qualify his epithets by saying: "I missed you."

Well, now it is my turn to say: I miss you Piero!

Earlier I mentioned kisses on the cheeks, and it is a fact that the last one he and I exchanged was the loudest ever because we unconsciously were saying good bye to each other! I will always remember you, dear friend, and treasure your memory deep in my heart.

Your abiding friend,
Mahmoud


Remarks by Richard Foa, son to Piero P. Foa

Helen (Katz), Marty (Katz), Richard (Katz),  Jason (Foa), and Joe Dunbar have spoken to remind us of WHO Piero was – a wonderful and devoted husband, father, grandfather, teacher and colleague…a man, I might add, faithful to his legacy as the son and grandson of equally distinguished scientists and teachers.  I would like to now say a little about my perceptions of how he became who he was.

It is rightly said of American kids, perhaps more than Europeans, that we strive (often without success) to be what are parents are not.  Today, in my remarks, I will make no effort to distance myself from Piero.  He was a man of great complexity and of some profound paradoxes.  We’re alike in many ways…(he would I think be pleased to hear that confession)…and he influenced me profoundly.

Piero could be compared to a diamond – with many facets and able to shine brilliantly, but not without flaws,  Piero was certainly
1)    A powerful intellect
2)    A productive research scientist
3)    A committed teacher and
4)    A generous man
But, while these characteristics are found in many, father was a unique blend of these elements.  What were the roots of this uniqueness?

He was Italian…born into a position of comfort among well-to-do European intelligentsia.  The predominant theme surrounding his youth, aside from education in science, was Italian nationalism.  Italy’s nationalism, unfortunately, turned into a hateful fascism with the promulgation of racial laws and then the expulsion of Jews just as Piero prepared to enter the academic world for which he was groomed.  This was, I think, the pivotal experience of his life – leaving him with bitterness, disappointment, and a profound sense of loss…a loss that, especially in recent years, he sought to recover by a more constant and explicit reassertion of his Italian identity.

As a father, Piero on countless occasions reflected that this experience was in fact a personal blessing since it gave him the opportunity to meet Naomi and to create the life in America that he truly enjoyed for the next 66 years…the life that we are here to remember and to celebrate.

Piero was Jewish.   This is not without irony.  Recall that although of Jewish ancestry, he came from a family that placed nationalism above religious ancestry.  Mussolini, tragically, had exactly the opposite attitude – identifying Italian patriots who were Jewish as Jews only.  This was the crucible in which Piero’s Jewish identity was forged.  He would comment frequently that he came from a country where anti-Semitism was law but where he never encountered an anti-Semitic citizen to a country where religious tolerance was law but anti-Semitism was found everywhere.  So he arrived in 1939 on the eve of America’s entry into WWII and found himself embraced by the Jewish community…where he remained.

Piero was not exactly a man of faith.  More accurately he was to the end an atheist.  Some of my most vivid memories are of listening to him argue against the existence of God.  He argued of course from a platform of science and he argued with passion and conviction.  This was no joking matter…not a polite debate with proper structure and points awarded for logical argument.  His passion came from a profound moral sensitivity.  Having experienced the total and incomprehensible moral collapse of his world, I think he felt that the existence of a supreme being meant the existence of a supreme betrayer of all that is humanly important.

Of course, Piero was a scientist.  This was his core identity…the essential Piero.  Not something he chose to do in response to other social or intellectual pressures.  Science was his consuming passion.  It defined his approach to the world and, as many here know, he was pretty good at it too.  I won’t enumerate his achievements in science.  I haven’t time now nor the ability to give them their proper weight.  But along with those who have spoken already, I would mention his related passion for teaching.  In this I feel great pride…for Piero was a consummate teacher – creative, resourceful, always prepared, utterly respectful of his students regardless of their age and level, and, at his peak, uniquely able to translate complexity and create understanding.  His work as a scientist and as a teacher gave Piero his public identity and sustained him to the end.   And I believe they sustained him because they were unambiguously good things – indeed the highest forms of human activity.

Never terribly introspective, my father in recent years allowed glimpses at the many uncertainties and self doubts that I think he’d kept buried for most of his life.  These revelations I feel heightened his great humanity.  He had a powerful desire for immortality…a tough wish for an atheist.  I would suggest to him that his immortality was in a sense assured – he needed only look at his grandchildren and great grandchildren and think of generations to follow.  But in his version, I believe he longed for more public acknowledgment and long remembrance of his contributions – not just to a great pyramid of scientific knowledge but for the wisdom he sought to share.

And so I will remember Piero, my father, the teacher who gave to so many of us here a little wisdom that we can each, in turn, transmit to others…so it may be shared for eternity.

I want to thank everyone who has come today, and to acknowledge many who wished to be here but could not come whether due to reasons of health or distance or conflicting commitment.  By your presence…by showing he is already missed and will be long remembered, you satisfy Piero’s desire to be among us forever.  Thank You.


Remarks by Jason Foa, grandson to Piero Foa

For those of you that I haven’t met, my name is Jason Foa, I’m Piero’s grandson.  Like my family that’s been speaking, I have a lot of great memories of Piero.  I remember some of  the experiments in the basements where you’d kind of watch half in wonder of what was going to happen next – if something was going to blow up or catch on fire.  I remember skiing and trying to keep with him.  I remember going fishing on their little lake.  But it wasn’t until very recently when I realized how lucky I was that Piero was in my life.  While my wife and I have two young daughters,  we have been visiting Detroit a couple of times in the last few years and to watch Piero interact with my daughters, his great-grandchildren, has been really enlightening for me because I’ve seen the love he shared with them, and the kindness, and the challenges he’s presented to them.  And it’s made me realize how much that was a part of my life and how much I relied on that and how much I learned from that, without ever really knowing it was happening.  So, I feel very fortunate to have had Piero in my life and I hope that I’ll be able to share that same kind of love with my families as my parents, and my brother, and my cousins have as well.  Thank you all for coming.  I really, I was talking with my wife a couple of days ago and we were talking about how it was really hard to feel too sad because he did live such a full life and he touched so many people that it’s hard to, envy’s not the right word, but it’s hard not to aspire to live a life like that and to live as completely as he did.  Thank you all for coming, we’re very fortunate to have known Piero.
 

Remarks by Joe Dunbar, Collegue to Piero Foa

    First of all, I would like to extend my condolences to the Foa family from the Department of Physiology, Wayne State University, and myself.  Dr. Foa and I had a long and productive relationship.  He took pride in this relationship and often said the relationship had come full circle.  It started in 1967 when I was his student, later he was my boss, then we were faculty colleagues and lastly I was his boss.  I have many very fun memories at each point along the way of our relationship.

    In the academic/university community the accomplishments of a faculty are usually judged based on three tenets: scholarship, teaching, and service or the proverbial triple threat.  In Dr. Foa’s case, he was a quadruple or five-fold threat because you could add the tenets of colleague and friend.

    As a scholar his contributions were significant and numerous.  He was the first to definitely identify the hormone glucagon.  And, for these studies, he was given the title of “the father of glucagon”. For many the significant important discoveries can go unnoticed because they are so universally accepted.  Dr. Foa was the first to demonstrate that glucose stimulated insulin secretion.  And, in textbooks it reads simply that, “glucose stimulates insulin secretion”, no ambiguity, simply an accepted fact.  Since his official retirement he has continued to have many research ideas and loved to discuss them with colleagues in journal club or lab meetings. One of the latest was his idea for a mosquito repellent that he convinced many of us to work on.

    As a teacher, Dr. Foa worked tirelessly to constantly be an outstanding teacher.  Although the records say that he retired in 1985, he continued to teach in many venues to the present.  He volunteered to teach in elementary and middle school, and continued to teach our medical and graduate students.  He was always revising his notes and lectures to make them better.  And, just recently Dr. Foa was bugging the course director of the medical curriculum where he wanted last year’s student reviews so that he could make changes in his notes and improve them further.  Dr. Foa was instrumental in putting together the Endocrine Unit that still stands as a model for medical school teaching.  For all of these accomplishments, he received the “Lamp Award” that is given by the students to the person that they consider as their most outstanding and influential teacher.  Many of us can only wish for this award.

    Dr. Foa provided extensive service to Wayne State University in a number of arenas, from serving as Chairman of the Department of Physiology to numerous committees on curriculum and policy.

    As a colleague, Dr. Foa was always interested in what fellow faculty were doing.  He was always willing to make phone calls to promote faculty or help students find positions.  As he read the specific literature, he would clip articles and give them to you, just in case you missed it.  It would surprise most faculty or students that he was knowledgeable about their work and interested as well.  He served as an unofficial advisory to many.

    As a friend, Dr. Foa was always concerned about your well being, and wanted to know if all was well.  When I informed my daughter of Dr. Foa’s passing, her first statements were that “she always remembered that he and Naomi were always there for many of the important events in her life, graduations, birthdays and the like.”

    Dr. Foa had a number of sayings, we called Foa-isms. His capacity to translate many distasteful or awkward activities into a lyrical Italian saying always captured the moment.  For all of the previously stated reasons and characteristics, Dr. Foa, he will surely be missed by all.