Vail Daily obituary: Dr. Paul Numerof, 1922-2013
Ryan Summerlin January 16, 2013
It is with great sorrow that we announce that Dr. Paul Numerof, brilliant scientist, nuclear medicine pioneer, senior pharmaceutical industry executive, consultant, business school dean, professor, skier, hiker, world traveler, lover of the arts, and of course husband, father, grandfather, and brother died Jan. 12. For the last year, he was a resident of McKnight Place Assisted Living in St. Louis, five minutes from the home of his loving daughter Rita. He had spent the prior 21 years as a valued member of the Vail community, close to his loving son, Norm.
He was born May 7, 1922, to Russian immigrants Jack and Sophie Numerof. Stories abound about how he learned from them the importance of ethics, hard work, and hard study while growing up during the Great Depression in Philadelphia. At a young age, he developed a keen interest in chemistry, and it was to become a cornerstone of his life. He excelled in college at Temple University. With the outbreak of World War II, he enrolled in the Army. He scored the highest possible marks in many scientific exams, and was asked if he wanted to become part of a top-secret project that would bring an earlier close to the war and save many American lives. Having followed for many years the scientific literature leading up to the splitting of the atom with the release of incredible amounts of energy, he guessed that this project would be the creation of an atomic bomb. He was correct. He and about 2,500 other top chemists, physicists, mathematicians, metallurgists, and others including J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi were secretly transported to Los Alamos, N.M., the home of what was to become the fabled Manhattan Project. His work included leading a team to develop a process to purify uranium that had been used in experiments. All the uranium in the Hiroshima bomb passed through his own hands. The Army had predicted that invading Japan to end the war would cost between 500,000 and 1 million American lives, and many times more Japanese lives. Their work is credited with ending the war sooner, saving those lives. They had won the race, beating the German and Japanese atomic bomb programs. Many times during his life, including the last year of his life, soldiers who had been scheduled to invade Japan and likely die personally thanked him for saving their own lives.
While in Los Alamos, he sent for his sweetheart, Claire Slachowitz. They were married there, and lived in the girls’ dormitory, a source of several stories! At the end of the war, he was only 23 years old, and had yet to start work on his doctorate. He earned that at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He went to work for ER Squibb and Sons, using low-level radioactive elements such as carbon and phosphorus to track their path as they traveled through the human body. This drove him to take courses in medical anatomy and physiology, and establish relationships with physicians all over the country. His work led to the use of medical isotopes (“Meditopes”) for use in bone and other scans to detect cancer, and scans to detect blood clots in lungs. Based upon his accomplishments, Squibb created the Division of Nuclear Medicine, which he of course led. It was for years the most profitable part of the company. He developed small nuclear isotope generators to make body scanning agents in hospitals. He was a founding member of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. He had an international reputation, and lectured worldwide. He published many articles in scientific journals, and is the holder of several patents.
He published a memoir of his experiences before, during, and after Los Alamos titled “In August 1945.”
While at Squibb he wanted to stay in his beloved lab with the team that he had created in New Brunswick, N.J., but he kept getting promoted, which took him to corporate offices in New York City, and eventually to Princeton, N.J. He earned an Executive MBA at Pace University in Westchester, N.Y. After 25 years with Squibb, becoming vice president of the Hospital Division, he left to do private consulting for major corporations. Using his background in chemistry, he developed techniques to neutralize hazardous chemicals spills for industries and emergency response units. He returned to Pace University to teach mathematics, management and marketing, where he won teaching awards and became full professor. He eventually was appointed dean of the Executive MBA Program. In 1990, he and his second wife, Betty, decided to point the Jeep west, and moved permanently to their vacation home in Vail.
He loved the mountains. He climbed 14,000 foot peaks. In the fall, he often took long backpacking trips with his son Norm into the backcountry, including many into the Wind River Range in Wyoming and the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. They would hike for days without seeing anyone. This scientist marveled at the beauty surrounding him, of the peaks, lakes, flowers, and animals including mountain lion. He often recalled being awakened from the tent at one o’clock in the morning by the bright light of the full moon, casting its glow on a high alpine lake surrounded by mountains. Of course, he loved to ski. He shared his love of the mountains with his grandchildren, driving them with Betty around the West, teaching as they went.
When people in the Vail Valley learned of his background, he was asked to teach, which he did eagerly. The consummate educator, he simply could not say no. He loved it when a student suddenly “got it.” He taught and tutored at Vail Mountain School and Colorado Mountain College. He insisted that no chemistry course be taught without lab work, and he made sure that a proper chemistry teaching lab was established in the valley. Many of his students credit him with passing chemistry and other scientific courses that were prerequisites for pursuing careers of their dreams.
He traveled the world to every continent, including Antarctica, which he visited twice. He was a lover of classical music, and frequently traveled to New York City for the pleasure of enjoying the Metropolitan Opera. Since his days in Los Alamos, he had been an admirer of Native American art, and he and Betty established The Collector’s Room, a gallery in Vail. In the Valley, he lectured, supported many charitable causes, and was an active member of B’nai Vail congregation.
For his health, he was forced to leave his beloved mountains a year ago, and moved to the lower altitude of St. Louis. Until then, his “light bedside reading” included books on calculus and quantum mechanics. In his assisted living center, he continued to enthrall audiences with stories of his life’s work, his intellect, his persistence, and his ever-present charm and warmth. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Paul found love with, married, and tragically lost to illness two remarkable women, Claire (Slachowitz, 1924-1980) and Betty (Luscombe, 1926-2006). He is survived by his brother Sidney and wife Roselle; his and Claire’s children Rita Numerof and husband Michael Abrams, Norm and wife Karen Numerof; Betty’s children Candy Byers, Jim and wife Dianne Byers, John and wife Patrice Byers; and grandchildren Eric, Jeremy and Zachary, Timeka, Chelsea and Jess, Brett, Tara, and Scott.
Contributions in his honor may be made to the Dr. Paul Numerof Memorial Fund at the Los Alamos Historical Society, P.O. Box 43, Los Alamos, NM 87544 or to the Dr. Paul Numerof Memorial Education Fund at B’nai Vail, PO Box 6068, Vail, CO 81658.
A brief funeral service will be held at Feldman Mortuary chapel, 1673 York St., Denver, CO 80206 on Friday at 2 p.m. The service will be followed by burial at the Mount Nebo Cemetery, 11701 E. 13th Ave., Aurora, CO.
On Saturday, the community is invited to the Edwards Interfaith Chapel for a celebration of his life. The family will welcome everyone at 5:30 p.m. There will be a brief service at 6 p.m., followed by remembrances of his long and meaningful life. Reception and hors d’oeuvres to follow. Anyone wishing to share personal experiences from their times with Paul at the celebration is invited to call 970-845-8518.