Colleagues remember creative mind

After battling multiple sclerosis for more than two decades, the former chair of USF’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology died Saturday.

Herman Friedman was 75.

Colleagues remembered him for his creativity and ability to constantly generate workable ideas. They also said he was an effective leader who used his friendly manner to encourage their work and who gave his family utmost importance.

Friedman served 25 years as chair of the department, from 1978 to his retirement in 2003. After leaving his position, he continued to serve as a faculty member until his death.

Scientists can be secretive about their ideas, just as filmmakers and novelists guard their own, explained Thomas Klein, professor of Molecular Medicine and Immunology at USF. A scientist’s ideas have the potential to be profitable as future patents.

But Friedman shared his ideas with colleagues and students regardless.

“He was there to foster (an idea) and take credit, but he openly shared (them), too,” said Klein. “His job was just to get it out there, just publicize discoveries and ideas. If you don’t let people know about (an idea or discovery), it’s wasted, he thought.”

Susan Pross, associate professor of Molecular Medicine at USF, described an episode from her early career. She met Friedman in 1978 when he first assumed the chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Pross joined in research he was conducting and indicated a new direction she found. Friedman supported her idea, and it blossomed.

“He was very unselfish in that he let my idea have some space. He embraced the idea, said ‘Go for it;’ I did, and it was successful,” said Pross.

As chairman, Friedman nurtured the careers of younger professors, like Klein and Pross, and kept his faculty in constant communication with him and themselves to promote their creativity.

“People knew (Friedman) was readily accessible,” said Klein. “They knew they could talk to him about anything, he was always available.”

Friedman, who became professor emeritus in 2006, demonstrated his competence when, in the first few years of his tenure, his department, the smallest at the time in the USF College of Medicine, won the highest amount of funding from the National Institute of Health, said Steven Specter, professor of Molecular Medicine and Associate Dean for Student Affairs.

In addition, students from his department boasted the majority of the first PhDs ever granted by the College of Medicine, said a press release from USF Health.

“He repeatedly did things to benefit his colleagues. He held meetings informally, in order to foster relationships. He invited anybody and everybody into his home,” said Specter.

Friedman not only involved his colleagues with his family, he also introduced his family to his work.

Klein recalled how Ilona, Friedman’s wife of 49 years, would often assist him in his work. For much of their marriage, he dictated his manuscripts to her and she transcribed.

“(Ilona) knew the language of science. He used to dictate volumes of information to her, and she’d transcribe him. She was like his editor,” said Klein.

Friedman was a prolific author, writing and editing over 75 books and more than 800 scientific articles, according to a press release. Colleagues attribute his productivity to a sharp and tireless mind.

Friedman, said Klein, could process and retain copious amounts of material.

Klein said he could write papers “in nothing flat,” and Specter noted his intense love of reading in general.

“He read anything and everything, with as eclectic a collection as you could imagine. I would guess that he had about 1000 books in his house,” Specter said. “(Reading) was his one great pleasure when he was not with his family.”

Dan Catlin can be reached

at (813) 974-6299 or oraclecatlin