Doris Drucker dies at 103; memoirist and wife of Peter Drucker

Doris Drucker, wife of Peter Drucker and author of the memoir 'Invent Radium or I'll Pull Your Hair,' has died

When Doris Drucker started a company at age 82 to manufacture a device she invented, she had a world-famous business expert in-house. Literally. Her husband was the eminent management expert Peter Drucker.

His expertise turned out to be not much help, but Doris Drucker had a long history of not letting setbacks stop her. She lived through two world wars, earned degrees in law and physics and wrote a well-received memoir.

Besides, she was bored.

"I have a lot of energy and play a lot of tennis, but it can get boring after a while," she said in a 1997 Los Angeles Times interview when she was 86. "You can't play tennis forever."

Drucker, 103, suffered a fall at her home in Claremont on Wednesday and died a few hours later at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, said her daughter Kathleen Spivack.

She was born on June 14, 1911, in Koenigstein, Germany, to parents whose marriage was arranged and never mellowed into affection.

The title of Drucker's 2004 memoir, "Invent Radium or I'll Pull Your Hair," comes from the many battles she had with her mother, Clara, who was domineering to such an extent that it bordered on comedy at times. Clara decided the names of her daughter's dolls, what subjects she would study in school and even when she was permitted to be hungry.

At one point her mother declared that her daughter should grow up to be a scientist and invent radium. "You'll be famous!" Clara said, and marry a Rothschild. When her daughter pointed out that radium had already been invented, Clara raged, "You are going to invent radium or I'll pull your hair!"

The book, which USA Today called a "fast and absorbing read," detailed life in Germany during World War I. Drucker eventually studied international law as an undergraduate and in the early 1930s worked at the League of Nations in The Hague.

Fearing the spread of Nazism, she moved to London, where she began a romance with Peter Drucker. They married and in 1937 moved to the U.S., where he took on the first of several teaching positions.

Doris Drucker, who indeed was interested in science, earned a master's degree in physics from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.

They moved to Southern California in 1971 when he joined the faculty of Claremont Graduate University. The school of management there is now named for him.

Doris Drucker's invention was born of her sitting in the back row of classrooms and other venues while her husband — whose hearing was less than perfect— gave lectures. "She was there to make sure everyone heard every precious word," Spivack said. When his voice inadvertently dropped in volume, "she would shriek out, 'Louder!' in her heavy German accent."

Her idea was a battery-powered device, equipped with a microphone and colored lights, that would give people who were hard of hearing a visual representation of how loudly they were speaking. A prototype was developed by an engineer and eventually the Visivox, as they called it, went on sale.

The device was bought by some institutions for speech therapy but never took off with the target audience — lecturers and other public speakers — she said, because they were too vain to use it.

She said the fact that her husband was Peter Drucker, who not only lectured widely but also wrote nearly 40 books, did not make the venture any easier.

"For all I know it may have hindered me because people think, 'You don't need to do this if your husband is so successful.'" she told the NJBiz business journal in 2006. "I found it a little silly because I don't ask people, 'Are you the wife of so-and-so?' 'Are you the husband of Mrs. Smith?'"

In addition to Spivack, who lives in Watertown, Mass., she is survived by daughters Cecily Drucker of Mill Valley, Calif., and Joan Winstein of Oak Park, Ill.; son J. Vincent Drucker of Mill Valley; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Twitter: @davidcolker

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