Oct 1, 2014

Obituary: Herbert Aron David, 1925–2014

obituary H A David
H. A. David (photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

Herbert Aron David, Emeritus Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University, Ames, passed away on July 14, 2014, in Columbia, Maryland, USA. At Iowa State he served as Director and Head of the Statistical Laboratory and Department of Statistics (1972–84), Professor (1972–80), and Distinguished Professor (1980–96).

H. A. David was born in Berlin, Germany, on December 19, 1925, and lived in Düsseldorf until the age of 13. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, his family migrated to Sydney, Australia, where David graduated from Sydney University in 1947 with a BSc (Hons) in mathematics. He moved to London in 1949 to pursue a PhD in statistics at University College London and worked on order statistics under the direction of H. O. Hartley. The influential Hartley–David paper on bounds for the expectations of range and maximum of a sample (Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 25, 85–99, 1954) came out of this work. He was also exposed to computing through early mechanical calculators, Brunsvigas; he kept one in his Ames office much later in life. He married Vera Reiss in London 1950 and after graduation in 1953, he returned to Sydney to work as a Research Officer at the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization). He moved to Melbourne University as a Senior Lecturer in Statistics in 1955, then to the USA in 1957, joining Virginia Polytechnic University at Blacksburg as a Professor of Statistics. In 1964 he moved to Chapel Hill as a Professor of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina, and from there to Ames in 1972.

David was a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (1962), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1962), the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1964), and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (1969). He received the Wilks Award for Outstanding Contributions to Statistical Methodologies from the US Army in 1983.

During his career, David supervised 25 students and published over 125 research articles in the areas of order statistics, robustness, paired comparisons, competing risks, biometry, and cyclic designs. In later years, he did intensive work on the history of statistics, statisticians, and statistical terminology and continued to be active, publishing his last paper in 2011. He is best known for his classic book on order statistics. With three editions and translations, Order Statistics (1970, 1979 in Russian, 1981, and 2003 with H.N. Nagaraja), has had a significant effect on theoretical and applied research in statistics and in other disciplines. It has also led to an explosion of research in order statistics, and, more recently to an international biennial conference on ordered data. The two editions of David’s monograph, Method of Paired Comparisons (1963, 1978 in Russian, 1988) and of Theory of Competing Risks (1978, with M. Moeschberger), have influenced the work of numerous researchers in these areas.

David’s last book, Annotated Readings in the History of Statistics (2001, with A.W.F. Edwards), celebrates the important Pascal’s contributions on the concept of expectation (Pascal, 1654) to the origin of confidence limits (Fisher, 1930). His edited work, Statistics: An Appraisal (1984, with H. T. David), celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the first Statistical Laboratory in the USA at Iowa State University, and Advances in Biometry (1996, with P. Armitage) commemorates 50 years of the International Biometric Society. David also edited the 1978 volume Contributions to Survey Sampling and Applied Statistics — Papers in Honor of H. O. Hartley.

David held offices for many professional societies in various capacities. He served as Associate Editor (1958–64) and Editor (1967–72) of Biometrics, and as President (1982–83) and Vice President (1981, 84) of the Biometric Society. For IMS he was a Council member (1974–76), a member of the Committee on Mathematical Tables (1974–75), on Fellows (1975–76; Chair, 1977), and on Memorials (1984–85; Chair, 1986). He served as a Council Member, Member of Board of Directors, an Associate Editor of JASA, and on several other significant committees, for the American Statistical Association.

H. A. David was respected for his high level of personal and professional integrity. In addition to being a top rate scientist, he was known for his fairness, thoughtfulness, brevity and clarity, and mentorship. He was involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1970s, and with Amnesty International in later years. After Vera’s death in 1991, he met Ruth Finch and they were married from 1993 to 2011. David is survived by his son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren.

“A Conversation with H. A. David” (Statistical Science, 2004, Vol. 19, No. 4, 720–734), contains a closer look at the man and his work.

Written by H. N. Nagaraja, The Ohio State University

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