Dr. W. Dixon Ward, the "father" of psychoacoustics at the University of Minnesota, established the Hearing Research Laboratory in 1962, which eventually grew into the Clinical Psychoacoustics Laboratory. Dr. Ward died in 1996. The following obituary was published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 101(5), 2406 (May of 1997).



W. Dixon Ward • 1924–1996

W. Dixon Ward, one of the most active and distinguished Fellows of the Society, died of heart failure at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota on 19 December 1996.  He was a past President of the Society and the 1991 recipient of the Silver Medal in Psychological and Physiological Acoustics, Musical Acoustics, and Noise.  His substantial service to the Society also included: Executive Council (1979–1981), Associate Editor for Psychological Acoustics (1984–1986, 1992–1993), Vice President (1986–1987).  His Silver Medal in 1991 was for ‘‘...furthering knowledge of auditory perception in psychological and musical acoustics and increasing the understanding of the etiology of noise-induced hearing loss.’’

Dix was raised in South Dakota and received his B.S. in Physics from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1944. (He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from that institution in 1971.)  After Navy service and graduate work at the University of Minnesota, Dix followed the example of Walter Rosenblith, his former college teacher, and went to Harvard University to study psychological acoustics.  There he was part of the legendary Psychoacoustics Laboratory and received his Ph.D. in 1953 under the mentorship of S.S. Stevens. 

At Harvard he collaborated with Ira Hirsh on their classic work on auditory fatigue.  This was the first of Dix’s many contributions to knowledge about the aftereffects of sound exposure on hearing.  His Ph.D. dissertation on the subjective octave began his many contributions to the understanding of pitch and the perception of music.

In 1949 Dix married Edith Bystrom (Bunny), who has attended many meetings of ASA with Dix, and has many lasting friends in the Society.  They raised four daughters: Marnie, Laurie, Chris, and Holly, to whom Dix was a loving father.

After his Ph.D., Dix continued studying music perception as a Research Engineer at Baldwin Piano Company.  He then became a Research Associate in a Navy-sponsored project conducted by the Central Institute for the Deaf on the auditory and nonauditory effects of high intensity noise.  In 1957 Dix joined Aram Glorig at the Research Center of the Subcommittee on Noise in Los Angeles, where he did an extensive series of experiments on temporary threshold shift.  These experiments provided the foundation for much of our knowledge about the phenomenon of auditory fatigue. 

Dix returned to the University of Minnesota in 1962 and held appointments in the departments of Otolaryngology, Communication Disorders, Psychology, and Environmental Health.  During 31 years at Minnesota, Dix continued research on the effects of noise on hearing, and on musical perception.  He supervised many graduate students, several of whom continued his legacy of distinguished contributions to hearing research.  Dix was also a dedicated teacher.  In November he expressed frustration that health problems made him miss many classes in a course that he had volunteered to teach.  He was grading exams for that course just a few days before his death.

Dix was a prolific contributor to many areas of acoustics and achieved international recognition.  His experimental contributions on auditory fatigue and on pitch were truly fundamental.  The former also had great practical importance because they provided much of the scientific basis for the development of criteria for assessing the risk of hearing loss produced by noise exposure, and for the implementation of hearing conservation programs.  Dix’s many review chapters were models of scholarship; they were lively, provocative yet balanced and fair, and they were beautifully written. 

His service to other professional and governmental organizations was also remarkable.  Dix was president of two audiological societies and was active on various committees of these organizations.  He also served in an editorial capacity for several other journals.  Dix was a member and Chairman of CHABA, and was a major contributor to the development of the well-known damage-risk contours published by that organization. 

Dix had many personal interests including hunting, fishing, bridge, singing, and playing the piano.  He approached these activities with a verve and joy that was contagious.  Dix was also a great and colorful character.  He was never one to abide foolishness, and could be a curmudgeon when he disagreed with something or someone.  He was famous for provocative questions at meetings, and for lively letters to local newspapers and to the Journal.  There was never malice or ill-will in these exchanges—he always had a memorable smile, even in writing, and was simply being Dix, using his great intellectual energy and integrity to challenge constructively.  Dix had many dear friends in the Society and we shall miss him. 

There will be a memorial session for Dix at the State College ASA meeting.