Last night, my dear friend George Casella passed away, after a long illness he had fought with his usual determination and optimism. Having known George for 25 years, I am devastated… He was a great father / friend / collaborator / researcher / teacher / editor / runner, and, above all, a great and unique person. The loss is profound, the loss is significant, for me and for us… My thoughts go out to his wife, Anne, and children, Benjamin and Sarah, who are the ones to feel this loss the most keenly.
(The following is adapted from a recommendation letter George asked me to write when he was considering moving to the University of Florida, Gainesville, from Cornell, a task for which I considered myself completely inadequate. I just hope it carries some of the love and admiration I felt for George.)
To me, George was the epitome of the academic researcher and a role-model: he had great ideas, he was enthusiastic about on-going research, he was incredibly hard-working, he was an excellent co-author, he had a very good vision of what is going on in the field of Statistics and of what will happen, he was always ready to embark on new directions of research, he was very supportive of young researchers and students, he had superb organisational skills, and so on.
To take a few examples and make this statement more accurate, consider the excellent textbook he wrote with Roger Berger, the very deep revision of Theory of Point Estimation with Erich Lehmann, or the considerable improvement he brought in our translation of my French book on MCMC methods: in all these, he illustrated pedagogical skills which made him one of the best teachers I ever seen. Consider then the job he did as an editor of JASA: as a reader, I think that he improved the general quality of the journal (which was already high); as an Associate Editor, I can also state that he had a very clear idea of the editorial line he wanted to follow and was very helpful to authors in changing good papers into great papers; as an author, I can at last certify that he was quite impartial (but fair) in dealing with my papers! [His editorship of JRSS Series B, which we shared for more than two years, was equally superb!] Consider again the success stories with his Ph.D. students, starting with Costas Goutis (who most sadly died in 1996): George has always been my model as an advisor in that he simultaneously helped the students quite a lot—from research topics to research methods to organization to preparation for academic careers—and let them as free and autonomous as possible. Consider yet again his involvement in Environmetrics and Genetics, his breadth in research topics, his numerous collaborations, the number of grants he got, and you get quite a unique picture!
I must add, from an even more personal point of view, that George was also the epitome of the ideal man: besides being a successful academic, he was in parallel a devoted father, a volunteer firefighter, a serious marathon runner, while being also involved in community service. And all this with a constant good cheer, a permanent attention to others, an on-going willingness to help whenever and whoever he could. I always envied him for his relentless energy to lead so many lives at the same time so efficiently!
(end of the letter)
At this time, many images come to my mind of all the things I shared with George, from “illegally” crossing the border into Ontario to see a baseball game to long runs around Belgrade Lake where we discussed the contents of Theory of Point Estimation… One of the most recent ones, so representative of him, is when I was leaving Padova in the early morning by bus and saw George running his morning laps around the Pratto della Vale in his determined and concentrated way. May he run forever in Heaven!