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Hanspeter R Witschi

Died: Sat., Jan. 18, 2020

Celebration of Life

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Hanspeter R. Witschi, known to many as Peter, passed away peacefully on January 18, 2020, in Bandon, Oregon. He was 86 years old.


The youngest of three children, Hanspeter was born in Bern, Switzerland, to the late Rudolf and Lia Witschi. His siblings, who predeceased him, were Suzanne and Eva. He will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 57 years, Christine, his sons Nicolas (Meg) and Laurence (Emily), and his two granddaughters Ava and Naomi.


Hanspeter obtained his M.D. degree in 1960 from the Universities of Bern and Geneva, and after a brief stint as a forensic pathologist he turned his attention to research, soon establishing himself as a prominent toxicologist. His career includes a post-doc in London, England, and increasingly prestigious and productive appointments at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Montreal, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and the University of California, Davis. From 1979 to 2001 he served as an editor for the journal Toxicology; in 1991 the Society of Toxicology presented him with its Education Award, and in 2008 with its Merit Award for a career of excellence in service, research and teaching. Central among his research endeavors were his investigations into the carcinogenic effects of second-hand smoke; widespread limitations on smoking in enclosed public spaces are in part the result of his findings and conclusions.


An avid hiker and traveler, Hanspeter enjoyed seeing the world and being in it. He felt equally at home in bustling urban centers and remote rural areas of unmatched beauty, and he shared that love with his friends and family. He was also deeply enthusiastic about history, about opera, and about his dogs (requiescat in pace, especially Sparky), while the pleasure he took in cooking and grilling made for many wonderful meals. In fact, the secret to his culinary success may now finally be divulged -- it was the mesquite.


The family intends to hold an informal celebration of Hanspeter’s life toward the end of February. Donations in his memory may be made to the Oregon Humane Society (oregonhumane.tfaforms.net/33 or 503-802-6766).  Friends may offer condolences online  at westrumfuneralservice.com.

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Stephen M Griffey DVM PhD
   Posted Wed January 29, 2020
Dr Witschi was on my orals committee for my PhD at UC Davis in 1997. I had the utmost respect for him and enjoyed our thoughtful discussions. At a meeting before the orals exam, I ask him what should I do to prepare. He promptly handed me a stack of his articles and books related to inhalation toxicology and said go over these and you should do fine. I left his office worried I would never be able to get through the material. I did my best. He was the last to ask questions during my exam. Up to that point, I felt the exam had gone pretty well but was terrified about what he would ask based on the volume of material he had given me. In the end his question was “What occupation in New York City has the highest incidence of lung disease?” I had no idea and all I could think was this wasn’t in any of the materials he gave me. I knew that it was going to be ok when other members on the committee tried to answer but were wrong. I realized then that he had given me the material for the sake of learning, not for the benefit of getting questions right on an exam. I have never forgotten this as I tried to teach students to learn for the sake of learning and not for what was on the exam. By the way the answer was toll booth operators.

Jim Kehrer, PhD
   Posted Thu January 30, 2020
I was a postdoctoral fellow with Peter from 1978-1980 at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. His mentorship was a major factor in my subsequent success. Importantly, his continuing support throughout my career was greatly appreciated and was certainly a factor when I received the SOT Achievement Award. I was grateful to be able to support him when he received the SOT Education and Merit Awards.
Peter always appreciated a good joke and could identify both good and bad science immediately. This made him wonderful editor of "Toxicology". He gave me numerous manuscripts to review while I was a postdoc (and after I became a faculty member) which greatly helped me as a reviewer, scientist, and eventually the editor of "Toxicology Letters". I will miss his occasional phone calls that occurred until I retired. Rest in peace Peter, you will be missed.

Calvin Willhite
   Posted Fri January 31, 2020
Dr. Witschi was a member of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) Committee (a group that develops occupational exposure limits for ~ 700 chemicals) for a number of years. Dr. Witschi also edited the Encyclopedia of Toxicology and encouraged me to participate on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Toxicology. Peter was always a very direct individual and his contributions to the science continue through those activities. My memorable quote from him was about the excellent quality of the New England lobster dinners put on by the NAS at their Woods Hole study center on Cape Cod.

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