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Obituaries for February 2021

1 February 2021 No Comment

Jackie Dietz

Submitted by Len Stefanski, North Carolina State University Department of Statistics
    Photo of Jacquelin Dietz

    Jackie Dietz

    Jacquelin Dietz passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Jackie, as she preferred to be called, was a colleague and friend to many in the North Carolina State University Department of Statistics. After completing her PhD in 1978 at the University of Connecticut, she joined the department. She remained on the faculty until 2004, when she moved to Meredith College. During her time at Meredith, Jackie was head of the mathematics and computer science department from 2007 to 2012. 

    During the 1980s, Jackie worked and published in the area of multivariate nonparametric statistical methods. Her interests turned toward statistics education and, in 1993, she became the founding editor of the Journal of Statistics Education (JSE). After that time, most of her professional efforts involved editorial work for several journals, service to professional organizations, and extensive involvement in the AP Statistics program.

    Jackie’s efforts with JSE resulted in the journal becoming an official publication of the American Statistical Association in 1999. In recognition of her pioneering efforts, the Jackie Dietz Best JSE Paper Award was established in 2011 and is given annually to the best paper among all those appearing in the Journal of Statistics Education in a given year as determined by the Best JSE Paper Award Committee. Jackie was elected a fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1996. She also won the American Statistical Association Founder’s Award in 2006. If you want to learn more about Jackie and her career, you can read “Interview with Jackie Dietz.”

    Jackie; her spouse, Richard Morris; and sons, Adam and Evan, were regulars at the department’s annual beach weekend. Many will remember the Dietz’s hosted the department’s spring picnic the first few years of its existence. When I arrived at NC State in 1986, Jackie and I realized we overlapped as students in the department of statistics at UConn, she as a grad student and I as an undergrad. We exchanged fond memories of Timothy Killeen, who was Jackie’s PhD adviser and the instructor of the course that most fueled my interest in graduate school.

    Jackie’s effect on her departments (NC State and Meredith), the profession, and countless students will be felt for a very, very long time.

    M. Ataharul Islam

    Submitted by Abdus S. Wahed
      Photo of M. Ataharul Islam

      M. Ataharul Islam

      M. Ataharul Islam (1955–2020), Q. M. Husain Professor at the Institute of Statistical Research and Training, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, departed this world on December 6, 2020, at the age of 65. He was a former professor of statistics at the University Sains Malaysia, King Saud University, University of Dhaka, and East West University, as well as a visiting scholar at the University of Hawaii, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and University of Pennsylvania. He was the recipient of the Pauline Stitt Award, WNAR Biometric Society Award for content and writing, University Grants Commission Award for book and research, and the Ibrahim Gold Medal for research. On November 26, 2020, Islam was awarded the highest honor by the Dhaka University Statistics Department Alumni Association (DUSDAA), the DUSDAA Outstanding Leadership Award, though he could only witness the award ceremony from his hospital bed.

      An inspiring educator and researcher, Islam transformed the face of statistics education in Bangladesh from merely memorizing formulas and equations into developing and applying them to solve important problems in society. Not only did he believe research was fundamental to quality education and development, he also led the statistics community in Bangladesh to put that belief in action. He advocated for the modernization of statistics curricula in academia and statistical tools used by the government and other research entities while offering influential leadership to implement these changes. Mir Masoom Ali, George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Statistics at Ball State University said of Islam, “He was undoubtedly one of the most famous statisticians/biostatisticians of Bangladesh. His contributions to the cause of statistics in Bangladesh are deep and profound. He was a very popular figure among students and colleagues alike. In him, I have lost a great scholar, a true friend, and also a great poet.”

      Islam published more than 200 papers in international journals about various topics, but particularly in the areas of longitudinal and repeated measures data, including multistate and multistage hazards models, Markov models with covariate dependence, generalized linear models, and conditional and joint models for correlated outcomes. He coauthored four books: Foundations of Biostatistics; Analysis of Repeated Measures Data; Markov Models with Covariate Dependence for Repeated Measures; and Reliability and Survival Analysis. He also edited the Collected Volume of Statistical Works of Q. M. Husain with Commentaries.

      Mushtaque Chowdhury, a professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and vice chair of BRAC, Bangladesh, described Islam as “a versatile genius.” Chowdhury wrote, “He not only touched the various sub-specialties of statistics but has also demonstrated keen interest and expertise in the areas of human development. He will be remembered for his persistence in promoting a research culture amongst his students and colleagues. His numerous publications on different aspects of human development, program evaluations, and statistical measurements are only reminders of the quality of his scientific contributions.” 

      When looking through the lens of western statistics, Islam’s works and accomplishments may seem unexceptional. Yet, as a statistician, he rose to a level envied by colleagues at home and abroad given that he spent his three-decade career in academic environments in Bangladesh and parts of the Middle East with near nonexistent research infrastructure and limited resources. Wherever he served, he changed the landscape into one more conducive to research.

      Islam’s contribution to research transcended far beyond the realms of academic statistics to economic development, health care advancement, and survey sampling. Throughout his career, he collaborated on many projects sponsored by the Bangladesh government, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, US Agency for International Development, United Nations Population Fund, Johns Hopkins University, and other nongovernmental entities. Jane Menken, distinguished professor of sociology and faculty in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado – Boulder, said, “Ata, as I know him, is especially recognized for his contributions on analysis of longitudinal data and repeated data. Equally important is his work on substantive problems ranging from issues related to pregnancy to depression, diabetes, and heart problems, but also including analysis of traffic accident data and transitions in economic performance and many more. This range is a testament to Ata’s willingness and even eagerness to work with others on problems of societal importance.”

      Islam transformed the educational environment in the departments he served, particularly the state of student-teacher relationships. Contrary to the then prevailing impersonal culture of “students unquestionably respect their teachers,” he believed education can only be successful if mutual respect is established. He treated every student and every colleague, young or old, with the utmost respect. Students would flock to his office and classroom to listen to his motivational words of wisdom, be it about statistics or career development and service. He mentored nine PhD students for their PhD thesis/dissertation and more than 100 master’s students for their master’s thesis, many of whom went on to earn PhD degrees in biostatistics or statistics and are serving as professors and leaders in national and international institutions. One of his mentees, Rumana Omar, a professor in the department of statistical science at the University College London, reminisced, “I first met Professor Ataharul Islam as an MSc student in the Dhaka University Statistics Department. I found Professor Islam very authentic, sincere, and honest and a visionary as a researcher and a teacher. He was ahead of his time. He inspired me to pursue an academic career in biostatistics and I really understood the concept of methodological research from him. He generously gave his time to his students. … As a mentor and a teacher, he has indeed helped to raise the profile of Bangladeshi biostatisticians to an international level. Professor Islam is a gem for the statistical community globally and a pride of the nation for Bangladesh.”

      Islam was a true believer in horizontal leadership. He used to say, “Each one of you is a leader in your own position. You do not need to become a chair or director to institute positive changes.” In effect, he practiced exactly what he preached. Soon after starting his term as chair of the statistics department at the University of Dhaka, he realized how administrative and bureaucratic engagements were big obstacles to establishing a world-class department in a developing nation. Nine months into his tenure, he relinquished his position and returned to his professorial responsibility.

      Until his death, Islam was uniformly regarded as the most motivational leader in Bangladesh statistics. He played a key role in establishing the DUSDAA, the alumni body of the University of Dhaka’s statistics graduates under which he organized two successful international conferences (2010, 2015) attended by former ASA presidents Jessica Utts and Sastry Pantula. Lutfor Rahman, chair of the statistics department at the University of Dhaka, wrote, “Ten years since the formation of DUSDAA, it is such a huge and vibrant organization—all credit goes to Professor Ataharul Islam.”

      John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Islam was the definition of such an inspiring leader. He was the guiding light for many who struggled to find their path. M. Shafiqur Rahman, director of the Institute of Statistical Research and Training (ISRT) and 2015 ASA Educational Ambassador, wrote, “Professor Islam was a charismatic individual whose passion for statistics was undeniable. Professor Islam was revered by students and colleagues at the institute for his leadership, exceptional dedication to the advancement of teaching and research, selfless devotion to the progress of his students, extraordinary statistical insights, and the remarkable ability to inspire all those around him. ISRT mourns the loss of this great man whose lifelong work will have a lasting impact on statistics education in Bangladesh and the world at large.”

      Beyond the classroom and his academic achievements, Islam was a delightful presence. Socializing with him was such a joy. On the surface, he was shy and measured, but everyone who knew him appreciated his love for humor, music, his family, and friends. Utts, professor emerita in the department of statistics at the University of California at Irvine, reflected on her interaction with Islam: “My trip to Dhaka was one of the most pleasantly memorable experiences of my ASA presidency, in no small part due to Atahar. He filled my schedule with interesting and informational tours, meetings, and adventures. Bangladesh has lost a national treasure, and the statistics community has lost a superb colleague.”

      A native of Dhaka, Islam finished his secondary school certificate (10th grade) from Sunamganj High School and higher secondary certificate (12th grade) from Notre Dame College in Dhaka. He loved to travel and experience new cultures, both within and outside Bangladesh. Wherever he went, he would try the cuisine and connect the food to other cultures. He enjoyed conversing with friends, colleagues, and family. He could even rope a stranger into a long discussion. He also liked to read; even during his last days, he had books all around his bed and enjoyed falling asleep after reading. He explored every genre (in both Bangla and English) that exists. Among his favorite authors were Sunil Gangopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, and Buddhadeb Guha. Islam had deep love for Rabindra sangeet (Tagore’s songs) and contemporary music. He also stayed up to date on current events.

      On top of everything else, Islam loved his family the most. Islam’s wife, Tahmina, is a professor of accounting and information systems in the faculty of business studies at the University of Dhaka. His daughter Jayati is studying for an MPH in epidemiology at George Mason, while his daughter Amiya is working as a junior executive at Protection and Indemnity Services Asia Limited.

      Islam was a poet at heart. His second work (450 pages of poems) was published in November of 2020. His poems were about the complexities of life, celebrating relationships, and the virtues of human character.

      Islam had unconditional love for his country. He diverged from his peers who settled in the west after their doctoral and postdoctoral training, instead choosing to return to Bangladesh and devote himself to the advancement of statistics there. One of his longtime collaborators, Shahariar Huda, a professor of statistics and operations research at Kuwait University, wrote, “Professor Islam was possibly the most influential statistics professor in Bangladesh since Qazi Motahar Husain. … Despite the constraints of being in a developing country, he remained active in research until his last days. In recent years, he provided valuable service to the statistical community by being the main force behind organization of international conferences in Dhaka. As a person, he was always friendly towards his colleagues and lived with very high moral standards. He will be badly missed by the statistical community in Bangladesh, as well as abroad.”

      A Bangla proverb goes, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” Islam lived his life for the rest of us and his world. The Bangladesh statistics community is truly mourning today.

      Susan Ruth Wilson

      Susan (Sue) Wilson was born in Sydney, Australia, on March 19, 1948. She was an undergraduate at the University of Sydney and completed her bachelor of science with honors. She earned her PhD from the Australian National University (ANU).

      Sue took up a lectureship in the department of probability and statistics at the University of Sheffield in 1972 but returned to ANU in 1974 when she began a position as research fellow in Pat Moran’s department of statistics in the ANU Institute of Advanced Studies.

      Sue was an elected member of the International Statistical Institute, elected fellow of the American Statistical Association, and elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS). She was the editor of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics Bulletin from 1993–1997 and president of the International Biometric Society (IBS) from 1998–1999. During her tenure, the IBS established the Sub-Saharan Network (SUSAN). Sue was awarded the inaugural E.A. (Alf) Cornish Award in 2011 by the Australasian Region of the International Biometric Society for her contributions to biometrics and honorary life membership in IBS “for outstanding contributions to the development and promotion of the discipline of biometry” in 2012. Sue was made an inaugural senior fellow of the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society in 2017. She was also the section editor for computation for the Encyclopedia of Biostatistics (Wiley, 1995–2004), and editor for the theme biometrics in the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (UNESCO, 2000–2007).

      For much of her career, Sue held research appointments. She was, however, always cognizant of the importance of educating younger researchers and passing on knowledge. Before the teaching of bioinformatics became established in Australia, Sue was instrumental in setting up the annual BioInfoSummer Summer Symposia in Bioinformatics in 2003. BioInfoSummer is now Australia’s major annual educational meeting for graduate students and early-career researchers in bioinformatics. Sue was particularly kind to, and supportive of, early-career researchers—proofreading and assisting to the end with Discovery Early Career Research Award applications.

      Sue is survived by her son, Jonathan. Learn more about her life on the the IMS website.

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