Feb 27, 2013

Obituary: George Casella, 1951-2012

George Casella, a leading figure in the field of statistics, passed away on June 17, 2012, after a nine-year battle with multiple myeloma. He was 61.

George’s influence on research and education in statistics was broad and profound. During his career, George published over 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; he co-authored nine books and he mentored 48 MS and PhD students. His publications included high-impact contributions to Bayesian analysis, clustering, confidence estimation, empirical Bayes, frequentist decision theory, hypothesis testing, model selection, Monte Carlo methods and ridge regression. Of his books, Statistical Inference (with Roger Berger) became the introduction of choice to mathematical statistics for vast numbers of graduate students; this is certainly the book that had the most impact on the community at large. In 1996, he joined a legendary figure of statistics, Erich Lehmann, then at the University of California Berkeley, to write a thorough revision of the already classic Theory of Point Estimation, which Lehmann had written by himself in 1983. This collaboration resulted in a more modern, broader, and more profound book that continues to be a key reference for courses in mathematical statistics. (It is notable that the book review section of Chance 25(4) was dedicated to five of George’s books.)

During his distinguished career on the faculties of Rutgers, Cornell and the University of Florida, George was a key influence in driving research, teaching, and recruitment towards an ever higher level of academic excellence. For instance, during his 19 years at Cornell, where he began as an Assistant Professor and finished as the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Biological Statistics, he participated in the creation of the Division of Statistics and became one of the pillars of the statistics community(ies) on the diverse campus. Located in the historical Ag’ School, George thoroughly enjoyed his many contacts and collaborations in the other schools, from the Mathematics Department to the Veterinary School. After joining the University of Florida in Gainesville in 2000, he became a Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Statistics of both the College of Agriculture and the College of Liberal Arts, and a Distinguished Member of the Genetics Institute, impacting the life and production of those departments with his endless stamina. Wherever he went, George played a key collaborative role in stimulating joint research, brimming with ideas and eager to plunge into new problems. His enthusiasm was contagious, and coupled with his insight, encouragement and generosity, colleagues and students simply blossomed in his company.

George Casella served as Executive Editor of Statistical Science, Theory and Methods Editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Society, and Editor of the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series B. Having just completed his four-year term with JRSS B when he passed away, George had a clear impact on the requirements of the papers published in the journal: the size of the volumes over his term decreased by almost a half, despite an increase in the number of submissions! As an editor, George was known for his impressive efficiency while maintaining the same high standards he had set for himself.

For his contributions to statistics, George was elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Institute for Mathematical Statistics, the International Statistics Institute, and the American Association for the Advancement for Science. An ISI “Highly Cited” Researcher, he was elected a Foreign Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, selected as a Medallion Lecturer for the IMS, and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Purdue University.

George was born on January 22, 1951, in Bronx, NY, where he attended the Bronx High School of Science. He received his BA in Math from Fordham and his MS and PhD in Statistics from Purdue University, under the supervision of Leon Gleser. He spent a sabbatical year in Granada, Spain, in 2002–03, where he built a strong collaboration with his friend Elías Moreno.

George enjoyed life to its fullest. In addition to his Herculean contributions to the profession, George ran 13 full marathons and served as a volunteer firefighter in the village of Varna during his time at Cornell. While he passionately loved his work, his family always came first. He is survived by his wife, Anne, his children, Ben and Sarah, his brother Carl and legions of friends in the statistics world. Beyond his significant contributions to statistical science, he will be remembered for his charismatic leadership of departments and students, as well as his unique sense of humor and his never-ending optimism. His laughter remains with us. Forever.

Contributions can be made in his name to a fund at Purdue University by sending a check made out to Purdue Foundation with a memo saying “the George Casella Fund” to Rebecca Doerge, Department of Statistics, Purdue University,West Lafayette, IN 47907. Online donations can be made by going to: https://donate.purdue.edu/DesignateGift.aspx; Select a Designation Area: College of Science; Select a Fund: Department of Statistics; Other Instructions (box): The George Casella Fund.

Written by Ed George and Christian Robert
This obituary is also printed in the March 2013 issue of Amstat News

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2 Comments

  • […] which he was a teaching assistant, the professor (the late George Casella—whose obituary appears here) encouraged the class to ask any remaining questions on anything that had been covered. A student […]

  • What a pity, I found a slide show that George had done on the issue of Frequentist”s and Bayesian’s methods. It was so well explained one of the best I have come across.
    did not know George had died and was wondering why the email I sent George could not be delivered.
    What a shame he died way too young.

    Alan

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