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In Memoriam: Professor Jeff Harrison

The University is saddened to report the death of Warwick’s first Chair of the Statistics department, Professor Harrison. Here Jim Smith, who was once Jeff's PhD student and then his colleague, shares his memories…

Professor Harrison was the first Chair of the Statistics Department at Warwick, which was formed in 1972. He was well ahead of his time. As well as being a remarkably imaginative researcher, he was committed to inter-disciplinary work, and continued promoting close contacts between statistics and industry throughout his career. He was one of the early UK Bayesians and led the development of Bayesian dynamic modelling methodologies - especially those relevant to industrial applications. His paper with Stevens, read to the Royal Statistical Society in the early 70's, had a profound effect on the discipline and inspired many leading statisticians to develop work in this and related areas. It is a testament to his vision that Dynamic Bayesian models are now one of the big growth areas in statistics. Although almost 20 years old, his book with Mike West is still a seminal text in this area.

As soon as Jeff arrived at Warwick he began innovative ventures. From the very outset he chose to appoint promising young research-active statisticians. The seeds he planted have now delivered very healthy fruit: Statistics started as one of the smallest Warwick departments but has grown to become a Warwick centre of excellence in research.

Despite being a research leader, perhaps Jeff's greatest achievement was his development of an undergraduate programme, now the envy of many other universities across the world. He exploited the interdepartmental symbioses encouraged at Warwick to found the pioneering MORSE (Maths, Operations Research, Statistics and Economics) degree. He used his negotiating skills to design and obtain collaboration across the participating departments so as to make this into a genuinely integrated single-honours degree programme. Because of its cohesion and its focus on the needs of employers, MORSE has always attracted highly skilled maths students with a strong interest in actually using maths in a practical way in industry and society. Through MORSE they have been able to develop all-round skills deeply rooted in a coherent and rigorous understanding of mathematics and statistics. When MORSE began it attracted about 30 students a year: it now attracts 130, winning international recognition to the extent that almost half the students on the programme come from overseas. The growth and success of this degree is due to Jeff's leadership.

But most of all Jeff will be remembered for his inspirational leadership qualities, the care and space he made for his many PhD students and his ability to turn his environment into an exciting, enjoyable and productive space for the benefit of others. The selfless care he had for both his students and his colleagues will be sorely missed.”

Professor Jeff Harrison