George Casella

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!

25 Responses to “George Casella”

  1. George didn’t just like Statistics – he adored it. His enthusiasm for our branch of mathematics made us statisticians feel that we were working in the most exciting area of research.

  2. Xiao-Li Meng Says:

    Years ago George called me and asked me to consider serving as the editor of a major statistical journal. I asked him how much time he had spent on it when he was the editor. He said about 4 hours a day. I told him that I was very much honored to be asked, but I was unable to do it because I was already over-committed. George loudly and emphatically replied: “Xiao-Li, what are you talking about? We do not ask people who are not over-committed!”

    How true! There was no such thing as “over-commitment” to George. Indeed, he was a living example of the “The Hilbert Hotel” — there is always one more room for a newly arrived commitment.

    • Thanks, XL! The Hilbert hotel is a terrific analogy for George’s ability to take in new ideas / friends / tasks / causes…

  3. I was saddened today to hear of George’s passing. I was not aware that he was ill. I have known him for a long time and considered him to be a good friend. He invited me to speak at the 6th Annual Winter Workshop at the U of Florida in 2004; I had a great time during that visit, and although George was in a leg cast and walking on crutches, he was a terrific host and made the visit quite memorable. I will be sorry not to see him and chat to him at the JSM and other professional meetings. But his books will be there for many more years, and every time I consult them, I will remember him with great affection.

  4. Luis Leon Novelo Says:

    George Casella was one of the best human beings I have ever known. I am his postdoc and I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him these last three years. While in Gainesville, I realized how lucky all of his students were because he not only taught them statistics but also how to connect their statistical knowledge to real life problems. I enjoyed the work meetings we had; I was always learning something and he also always made a point to listen to my ideas (even the very bad ones!).

    George was an outstanding professional, but his home life was really where his heart was. His greatest pride was his children. Throughout his office he had family pictures proudly displayed and even his screensaver was programmed with pictures of his son suited up to play football. Very often his students and colleagues were invited to his home to share in good food and wine and he was always eager to supply us with good advice. With my family being so far away, he always made me feel at home.

    My life has been forever changed by George and I owe him so much more than I was ever able to express to him. My love of statistics will always shine bright because of his personal and professional influence on me. Thanks for everything, George!

  5. I was fortunate enough to have 4 or 5 classes with Dr. Casella as well as many other meetings and conversations. He was brilliant, caring, and generous and I owe much of my own knowledge of statistics to him. Having an office right down the hall from his, we always heard him laughing during his frequent meetings with students, researchers, and friends. There are very few people who enjoy their work as much as he loved working in the field of statistics.

  6. Vincent Ducrocq Says:

    Merci, Christian.
    This is a terrible and sad day.
    I was one of his first students in the field of animal breeding back in 1984-1987 at Cornell. He had a tremendous influence on the direction my PhD took then, and as a result, on my whole carrier. At the same time, he was so simple, so direct and friendly. He was unique in helping you to build your self confidence, in gently forcing you to be more “ambitious”…

    I went back to Cornell in 1995-1996 with the firm objective to benefit from his advice and expertise. Again I enjoyed every single minute I worked with him but also the relaxed atmosphere at his place with Anne and the kids.

    I will always regret the missed opportunity to tell him how much I owe him.

  7. Sorry to hear about George. He was a great teacher; always full of enthusiasm. Requiescat In Pace.

  8. Alessandra Salvan Says:

    It was extremely sad for us, friends , colleagues and students at the Statistics Department of the University of Padova, to learn that George Casella passed away.
    Our deepest sympathy in this difficult moment goes to his beloved family, always the first image on the background of his computer when he was setting up for a talk.
    His books and works and especially Statistical inference (with R.Berger), and Monte Carlo Statistical Methods (with C. Robert), have been a must in the training of generations of students at our department – and will be for long.
    We had the great opportunity to have him in Padova in June 2010 to teach a phd course on Monte Carlo methods, followed also by phd students from all over Italy.
    He immediately captured the interest and affection of everybody, being exceptionally generous and careful in bringing his deep knowledge to the audience.
    We are most grateful for all he has been able to transmit to us scientifically and personally.

    Alessandra Salvan
    Chair, Department of Statistical Sciences
    University of Padova, Italy

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