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Passings: Rita Polusky, Thomas Shelley Duvall

Rita Polusky, major USC donor, 83

Rita Polusky, the wife of retired United Parcel Service executive Edward Polusky and a major supporter of gerontological research at USC over the years, died on Feb.18. She was 83.

The Poluskys’ involvement with the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center dates to 1975 when Edward Polusky was instrumental in securing a gift from the UPS Foundation. That gift created the two UPS Professorships in Law and Aging.

They established the Ed and Rita Polusky Student Aid Endowment fund in 1982 and made regular gifts to the Ed and Rita Polusky Scholarship fund – one of the center’s largest individually funded scholarship endowments, supporting as many as six gerontology students per year.

In 1997 they gave $1 million to the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center to set up the Rita and Edward Polusky Basic Cancer Research Professorship. With a further gift of $500,000, the couple recently re-established the professorship as the Rita and Edward Polusky Chair in Basic Cancer Research. Michael Lieber, a professor of pathology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and of molecular microbiology and immunology, in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, will be the chair’s inaugural holder.

In 1999 the Poluskys gave $2 million to the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to establish the Rita and Edward Polusky Chair in Education and Aging, held by David A. Peterson.

Rita Polusky is survived by her husband.

Thomas Shelley Duval, psychology, 58

Thomas Shelley Duval, a social psychologist known for his groundbreaking research in earthquake preparedness, died in late February, an apparent suicide, in his Silverlake home. He was 58 years old.

His body was found Feb. 26, after USC administrators learned Duval had missed class and asked police to investigate.

Duval, an associate professor and popular teacher who shepherded hundreds of students over the years, was hired in 1978 to help launch a social psychology department at USC.

“Shelley was a remarkably creative scholar, someone whose ideas have formed the basis for research and scholarship by many others,” said Gerald Davison, chairman of the psychology department in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “He was a gentle soul who liked nothing better than to schmooze about abstractions and explore connections among seemingly disparate domains. He will be sorely missed.”

Duval won numerous awards, including recent grants from the National Science Foundation.

Duval published a number of articles on self-awareness, self-evaluation, causal attribution and the processes that lead to problem-focused vs. emotion-focused coping. His work has been cited more than 300 times in various publications.

Duval expanded theories of William James, one of the founders of modern psychology. Using the notion of self-concept, Duval studied expectancy and social facilitation theories, especially in earthquake preparedness.

In his study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 1999, Duval concluded that scary public service announcements may unintentionally cause homeowners to avoid preparing for the Big One.

“Conventional wisdom holds that the way to motivate people is to scare them, but that’s not enough,” said Duval. “Unless you also convince people that they can make a real difference, we found that threats make them avoid preparing at all.”

Duval was a member of the Society for Experimental-Social Psychology, and of Division 8 of the American Psychological Association. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972.

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