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Obituary: S. James (Jim) Press

1 July 2021 No Comment
Submitted by Julie Press and Subir Ghosh

Black and white photo of Jim Press

Jim Press

S. James (Jim) Press, a distinguished professor emeritus of statistics at the University of California, Riverside, passed away November 25, 2020, just shy of his 90th birthday.

The field of statistics has lost one of its greats in the area of Bayesian multivariate analysis and a cofounder of the Section on Bayesian Statistical Science. Jim’s fundamental research contributions were in multivariate analysis, Bayesian analysis, and cognitive aspects of survey methodology and their applications across a range of disciplines. His early seminal research contributions include the Nerlove-Press models (1973, 1976), multivariate stable distributions (1972), and the t-ratio distribution (1969). His three statistics books are classics, and two of them are still available in their second editions: Applied Multivariate Analysis (1972, 1982, 2005); Bayesian Statistics: Principles, Models, and Applications (1st ed. 1989); and Subjective and Objective Bayesian Statistics (2nd ed. 2002). He also co-authored with Judith M. Tanur the book The Subjectivity of Scientists and the Bayesian Approach (2001, 2016). From 1997–1998, he was an NSF/ASA Fellow at the Census Bureau; some of the later applications of his research include image classification and reconstruction and statistical analysis of microarrays.

Jim was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 4, 1931. A New Yorker by birth, he was a Californian in spirit, and he and his beloved new wife, Grace, left New York for California in 1951, never to return. On the West Coast, they started a family and Jim embarked on a successful career—first in the aerospace industry and then in statistics.

In Los Angeles, Jim worked for Northrop and then Douglas Aircraft, but his insatiable desire to learn led him back to school and a change in careers after 10 years. He enrolled in night school at the University of Southern California, earning a master’s degree in mathematics. He then went on to the PhD program in statistics at Stanford University under the direction of Ingram Olkin, graduating in 1964.

Jim’s first academic job was at the business school at The University of Chicago, where he taught until 1974. He then moved with Grace and their growing family—now three young children—to the University of British Columbia, where he could escape Chicago’s brutal winters and strike out on his own intellectually. Jim was offered the opportunity to return to his beloved and warm Southern California to be chair of statistics at the University of California, Riverside, after four years in Canada. There, he worked with his colleagues to shape the department and happily spent the rest of his career until his retirement in 2005 with the rank of distinguished professor.

Jim also consulted for most of his career (from Chicago to Vancouver to Riverside) with the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California, supplementing his academic work with numerous applied projects.

Jim was an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. Jim spearheaded and cofounded with Arnold Zellner the ASA Section on Bayesian Statistical Science.

In addition to statistics and his family, Jim’s great love was travel. The stories of his explorations with Grace through the Amazon jungle, all across Africa, and throughout Asia are now family lore.

Jim loved Riverside—the desert foliage, the orange groves, and the enveloping heat—as well as the university that was his home for 27 years. He is survived by Grace, their three children (Julie, Jamie, and Daryl), and their six grandchildren.

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