Home » A Statistician's Life, Celebrating Black History Month

Celebrating the Life of Annie T. Randall

1 February 2022 922 views No Comment

Kimberly Sellers

Annie T. Randall and I met four years ago. The movie Hidden Figures had been released and Randall was giving a talk at an area library about her experiences as a hidden figure, herself, serving as a government biostatistician with the National Institutes of Health.

As a Black female statistician, learning of her existence was huge. She’s what I like to call “an outlier personified.” She was yet another example showing that we exist! I was so elated at the idea of meeting Randall and hearing her speak that I arrived an hour early (even beating her family’s arrival) and took a front seat. I was able to speak with her both before and after the event. What a woman! The stories she told about her life were humbling and relatable in so many ways. We even shared common business acquaintances.

At that moment, Jeremiah 29:11 was prominent in my mind: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” God’s plans were made clear: to use my position as then chair of the American Statistical Association’s Committee on Women in Statistics to make sure the statistics community knew the name Annie T. Randall and her contributions to our discipline.

For the next four years, I publicized Randall’s name and work wherever possible. She was twice featured in Amstat News. She was also among those featured on Mathematically Gifted and Black.

As a result of those efforts, an ally in the field reached out with the idea of naming a newly established innovator award for early-career biostatisticians after Randall. The first recipient was recognized during the 2021 Joint Statistical Meetings on August 9—one week before Randall’s passing. Knowing Randall was able to see this moment come to fruition and to have her family represented and giving remarks were historic and emotional.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to know and thank Randall for all she did, and to give her flowers while she was here. On behalf of all statisticians, particularly those who are underrepresented, thank you to Randall’s family for sharing her with us. Rest assured, she is hidden no more and her name will live on!

~ Kimberly Flagg Sellers

Annie T. Randall

Annie Mae Turner Taylor Randall was born in the middle of the roaring ’20s, on January 22, 1925, in Greenwood, South Carolina. Born to the late Joel Turner and Sarah (Chin) Turner, Annie Mae dropped the “Mae” when she entered the workforce with the US federal government.

Growing up in a segregated Washington, DC (what is now Capitol Hill), Ann met friends for life on “3rd and G Streets, Northeast.” She attended public school and earned straight As, even skipping the eighth grade. She graduated from Dunbar High School and took undergraduate and graduate classes at American University and the US Department of Agriculture.

Ann began her government career at the US War Production Board during WWII. Early in her career, she also worked for the United States Navy and Air Force. Ann was one of the early “Government Girls,” a term coined during WWII when the federal government hired women to fill roles during a labor shortage. Not only was Ann a woman in the workforce during the 1940s and ’50s, she was also the first professional African American to work in several government agencies. She excelled, despite facing blistering discrimination and overt racism, including a supervisor ordering that his desk be turned away from Ann so he “didn’t have to look at a n—–.” Tenacious and resolute in her commitment to excellence, Ann continued to deliver outstanding results in spite of the circumstances she faced.

Like Katherine Johnson in the film Hidden Figures, Ann loved and excelled at math. A trailblazer in her own right, Ann was a mathematical statistician at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) in the Theoretical Statistics and Mathematics Branch. She was responsible for the calculations behind the book Human Aging, published in the late 1960s and still used today for behavioral and biological studies. At NIMH, Ann used one of the first mainframe computers and the Friden calculator (featured in Hidden Figures).

Ann received numerous letters of commendation from multiple sources, including the University of Pennsylvania and National Academy of Sciences. Ann’s story is also the subject of a 2016 doctoral dissertation by Aura Wharton-Beck of the University of St. Thomas-Minnesota.

Ann met the love of her life, William “Sonny” Randall, in 1953, and they married in 1957. Their proudest moments were the successes of their daughters, Susan and Laura, and the birth of their five grandchildren. Ann and Sonny were known for cookouts at their home, which were famous for their delicious food, side-splitting humor, legendary stories, and impromptu talent shows.

One of Ann’s celebrated milestones and highest recognition came in an academic award that bears her name. The Annie T. Randall Innovator Award was established in 2020 by the ASA’s Biometrics Statistics Section and is cosponsored by the Mental Health Statistics Section to recognize early-career statistical innovators. The award was presented on August 9, 2021, to Loni Tabb, a biometric statistician and associate professor at Drexel University.

Ann is known for her smile, laughter, humor, and hats—all worn with her one-of-a-kind style, grace, and poise. Indeed, she has been called the “Silver Fox” and “Life of the Party.” “Ma,” as she is affectionately called by extended family and the friends of her children and grandchildren, has been a mother to many people over the years. Hers was the “Kool-Aid” house, where all the neighborhood children wanted to be and friends and relatives always wanted to go. There, they knew they would find fun, food, fellowship, and—most of all—love.

Ann passed away on August 16, 2021. She enjoyed spending time with family, laughing and telling stories, sharing life lessons, listening to ‘oldies’ and Motown music, talking on the phone, going on ‘field trips,’ shopping, and waiting for items ordered from her favorite stores to arrive. Indeed, she lived a rich, long, joyous, and active life filled with love, laughter, family, and friendship.

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