Jun 27, 2018

Remembering P.K. Bhattacharya

George Roussas writes in memory of his colleague:

Joining in the celebration of the life and achievements of PK Bhattacharya [see his obituary], I wish to scribe a few words based on reminiscences from our lives on campus of UC-Davis.

PK was present almost from the establishment of Statistics at UC-Davis as an independent unit. Armed with keenness, farsightedness, and strategic thinking, he certainly was a decisive factor in its evolution to a unit of national and international acclaim.

I came to know PK through his contributions to non-parametric statistical methodology—overlapping with some of my interests—and this was a motive for my seeking a visiting appointment at UC-Davis in 1984. This scientific coincidence came to play a deciding role in the rest of my life and that of my family.

After obtaining my PhD degree from UC-Berkeley, and serving for ten years in the Department of Statistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I accepted (because of a contractual obligation) an appointment at the University of Patras, Greece. Helping spread the gospel of modern statistics in Greece could have been an enticement, except that it was highly taxing from the beginning, and truly impossible later on. In 1984, UC-Davis was recruiting for a leadership position in Statistics, and PK was the chair of the search committee. He suggested that I offer a weekly seminar in an area of my competence, and later on, he strongly advised me to apply for the vacant position it. I did so, was selected, and accepted an appointment on an experimental basis. That experiment lasted for 27 years until my retirement in 2012!

During my administrative years, I often sought PK’s wise counsel on a host of issues, and I was always impressed by its depth and soundness. Beyond his high intelligence at the professional level, his low-key personality concealed a sharp and piercing mind regarding social issues, as I found out on various occasions.

PK was a modest man. It took quite some effort on the part of some of us to convince him to agree to a Festschrift as a token of appreciation for his many contributions to the profession. And late last year, he tentatively agreed to an hour-long videotaped interview for the UC-Davis Alumni Association to be scheduled for this year. Regrettably, that’s now not going to happen. Perhaps his deteriorating health was a factor for his reluctance.

In summary, with PK’s passing away, the statistical profession has lost a talented and creative researcher; the UC-Davis is deprived of a cornerstone of its structure; and humanity is poorer for the loss of a noble and a truly decent human being. His former students, colleagues and friends will cherish his memory for ever!


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