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344 North Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
Fax: (215) 348-0680

344 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
Phone: (215) 348-8930
Fax: (215) 348-0680

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Obituary for Harley Hanson

Harley M. Hanson, 85, of Hilltown, PA, died suddenly on May 18, 2016. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Harley had remained active and engaged with life until the very end, despite multiple surgeries and ongoing minor ailments. Just five days before his death, he worked out with his trainer at the gym, as he did every Friday.

A native of Akron, Ohio, Harley graduated with distinction from the University of Akron in 1952, the same year as his marriage to fellow University of Akron graduate Joyce Halfen. In 1956 he earned his Ph.D. in psychology from Duke University, where he studied under Norman Guttman, a pioneer in behavioral psychology. Harley also became friendly with B.F. Skinner, Guttman’s mentor and the father of behaviorism. A 1957 article based on his dissertation that Harley wrote for SCIENCE magazine was widely cited.

Following a year of post-graduate research at Duke, Harley moved with his wife and two young daughters, Karen and Alexandra, to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where he joined the pharmaceutical company Merck as a research scientist in the company’s West Point labs. There, he used the principles of operant conditioning to investigate possible new drugs. A third daughter, Anne, was born in Pennsylvania. Harley was appointed Director of Neuropsychopharmacology in the mid-1960's.

A few years after Harley’s first marriage ended in the early 1970's, he fell in love with Carol Ivester, then a young researcher in the Merck laboratories. The pair married in 1978. After Harley retired from Merck in 1987, he became a househusband and enthusiastically supported Carol as her Merck career took off, culminating in her rising to the director level. The pair moved to Hilltown, Bucks County, where Harley became a part-time hobby farmer. He went so far as to acquire two bull calves, which he put under the yoke and trained in draft work, even as they grew to be 550-pound oxen.

A constant throughout Harley’s life was his love for, and pride in, his daughters. Willing to take on almost any topic of conversation, with the possible exception of sports, he always listened patiently, providing support and encouragement without judgment. During visits, he always gave the gift of his undivided attention. He also was enormously proud of, and took great joy in, his grandson, McWelling Hanson Todman.

In his later years, Harley found profound satisfaction in learning about his family tree. A highlight was a 2007 trip to Sweden, where he met several cousins who embraced him warmly, and where he visited his grandparents’ birthplaces.

Harley was predeceased by his parents, Frank and Ida, his brothers Frank, Albert, and Harvey, and by a half-brother. In addition to his wife, daughters and grandson, he is survived by sons-in-law McWelling Todman and Marc Springer, sisters-in-law Virginia Hanson, Nancy Fitzpatrick and Linda Harbaugh, brother-in-law Franklin Ivester, many nieces and nephews, several cousins, as well as close friends and a large extended family. All of us miss him terribly.

A memorial service will be held at the Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home, 344 North Main Street, Doylestown, PA 18901 on Saturday, June 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm. The family will receive friends from 12:30-1:30 pm, prior to the service.

Memorial donations in Harley’s name may be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.

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