On February 4, Dr. Philip Francis Hirsch, former director of the school’s Dental Research Center, passed away at the age of 91.
Hirsch began his work at UNC in 1966 when he joined the University as a professor of pharmacology. In 1975, he became the director of the Dental Research Center at the UNC School of Dentistry. He held this position for seven years, until 1983, and he stayed on faculty at the school until his retirement in 1992. At that time, he was named Professor Emeritus of pharmacology and dental ecology. During his time at the University, Hirsch was awarded a one-year Kenan Leave to pursue research at the Hospital St. Antoine in Paris, France in 1974.
Prior to joining UNC, Hirsch served in the U.S. Army for three years as part of the 27th Infantry Division Band. Following his discharge from service, Hirsch enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1950 and his doctorate degree in physiology in 1954. Following his graduation he relocated to Harvard University, where he worked from 1955-64. He then worked at the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory for two years before joining UNC.
His research focused on hormonal control in the metabolism of calcium. During his time at Harvard University, he discovered the hormone calcitonin, which is produced by the thyroid and helps regulate the blood’s calcium and phosphate levels. He continued his study of calcitonin throughout his career.
Outside of dentistry, Hirsch was interested in politics and what is now called “social justice.” In 1968, he was personally thanked by Sen. Eugene McCarthy for his assistance in Sen. McCarthy’s run for the presidential nomination. During the 1970s, Hirsch was part of a slate of candidates that successfully took over the board of the Chapel Hill YMCA. He served the University and his community in many other ways.
Hirsch is survived by his spouse of 60 years, Eugenia A. Hirsch; children, Steven P. Hirsch (Elizabeth Blevins), of Ashton, Md.; Lisa Hirsch, of Miami, FL; Kenneth Hirsch (Marion), of Chapel Hill, N.C.; Nancy Hirsch, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Leo Hirsch, of San Francisco, Calif.; and Martin Hirsch, of Los Angeles, Calif.