From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Obituary: Hal W. Hendrick

The world, and particularly the world of ergonomics, recently lost one of its greatest citizens. Hal W. Hendrick died peacefully at home with his family on May 13, 2011, following a courageous battle with cancer.

Hal had a long and very distinguished career in ergonomics, beginning at Purdue University, where he earned a PhD in Industrial Psychology, an MS in Human Factors, and a minor in Industrial Engineering. Since then, his leadership, professionalism and enthusiasm led to many significant accomplishments, including:

  • Associate Professor at the United States Air Force Academy, where he co-developed the psychology major, developed a cooperative Master of Science program with Purdue University, and founded the Psychology Laboratory. Additional assignments included Chief of Behavioral Sciences at the Defense Race Relations Institute, Air Force Project Engineer for Crew Station Design, Safety Provisions, and Alternate Mission Kits on the C-141 transport development program, and design engineer on the Dynasoar space vehicle astronaut control-display panels;
  • Three years as Dean of the College of Systems Science at the University of Denver;
  • Emeritus Professor of Human Factors and Ergonomics, University of Southern California, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years before retiring in 1996, including such duties as department chair and interim Executive Director of Institute of Safety and Systems Management. He also received USC’s Associates Award for Teaching Excellence during his tenure;
  • President of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA);
  • President of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES);
  • President of the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE); he also played a strong role in founding the BCPE, and received CPE certificate #4 when the organization was launched in the early 1990’s;
  • President, Foundation for Professional Ergonomics (FPE), where he also directed the formation of the Ergonomists Without Borders project;
  • HFES’s Distinguished Service Award;
  • HFES’s Jack A. Kraft Award;
  • HFES’s Alexander C. Williams, Jr., Design Award;
  • IEA’s Distinguished Service Award.

Hal is also credited as the "father of macroergonomics," having conceptualized and initiated the sub-discipline in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He is also the author or co-author of over 200 professional publications, 5 textbooks, and Editor or Co-editor of 16 books. This list of Hal’s accomplishments could go on and on.

His international service and recognition was so great that HFES recently renamed one of its awards in his honor:

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Executive Council has renamed the Distinguished International Colleague Award to honor a renowned member of the Society, Hal W. Hendrick. The Distinguished International Colleague Award, formerly known as the Distinguished Foreign Colleague Award, recognizes a non-U.S. citizen who has made outstanding contributions to the human factors/ergonomics field. In a letter to the Executive Council, the award’s subcommittee wrote that Hal Hendrick has been active in promoting human factors/ergonomics internationally for decades and that he has received worldwide recognition as an outstanding scholar, teacher, practitioner, and diplomat for the field.

in 1996, Hal retired from his primary duties at USC, but continued his contributions and service through his private consulting firm Hendrick & Associates. In 2006 he semi-retired again, yet remained active in professional societies and continued to write. Here’s what Hal had to say about retirement (USC, 2008):

Keep physically and mentally active. Never fully retire! Retirement is a great time to pursue hobbies, travel, and anything you always wanted to do but for which you never before had the time. It also is a great time to serve as a mentor for younger colleagues and to enjoy one’s children and grandchildren.

Anyone who had the opportunity to work with Hal can attest that he lived up to these goals, contributing his time and wisdom to help his profession and mentoring many fortunate colleagues along the way. He also took more time with his family, including his wife Mary, children and grandchildren, splitting their time between their Colorado home and their ocean-front condo on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Andy Imada, the current President of IEA and a close friend to Hal, shared some of Hal’s recent reflections as he waged his battle with cancer:

[Hal’s] conclusion was that we are part of the greater whole where nothing lasts forever and that death was a natural part of the process. It gave him great peace knowing that he lived up to the ideal of treating others as you would want to be treated and doing your part to make this world a better place by helping others.

He said he had gotten feedback from many people thanking him for what he had done, and in some cases how he changed lives. Sometimes it was things that he said or did. But most of the time, he was unaware that he was affecting others. People letting him know that he affected them gave him great satisfaction and joy. He regarded this as one of life’s greatest rewards. It was more about the journey than the destination for him and he said he had a great ride. He asked me to pass on these simple but profound ideas.

Leaving a parting message with such wisdom is so characteristic of Hal. He was a great man who connected with and influenced countless people, professionally, personally, and through the spread and application of ergonomics. He will be sorely missed by all, but his amazing contributions will live on to make the world a better place.

The family is planning a memorial service for sometime in June. In the meantime, they ask that in lieu of flowers or other expressions of condolence, you can make a contribution to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society or your favorite charity in his name.


Sources: USC, HFES, Ergoweb, Ergonomists Without Borders, personal communications with Andy Imada