James O. Ramsay, Honorary Member 2012

James O. Ramsay
Honorary Member

James O. Ramsay, Professor Emeritus at McGill University, has been named an Honorary Member in the Statistical Society of Canada. Honorary Membership in the SSC is granted to statistical scientists of outstanding distinction who have contributed to the development of the discipline in this country. The nomination was announced at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society in Guelph, Ontario.

Jim was born on September 5, 1942, in Prince George, British Columbia. His father was a telegrapher on the Canadian National Railway, so that during his youth, Jim kept moving from place to place in Alberta and Saskatchewan with his parents and his two sisters. Finally, following 14 moves in 11 years, the family settled in Wainwright, Alberta, where Jim completed his high school.

Jim's early memories of mathematics were of a somewhat unchallenging and poorly motivated subject. In 1960, he thus chose to enroll in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. His first calculus course changed his mind and with the help of a flexible program director, he was able to squeeze many mathematics and statistics courses into his curriculum. Meeting his future wife and discovering differential equation theory were the highlights and career-definers in Jim's final year in Edmonton.
Jim completed his BEd in 1964 with a major in English Teaching and a minor in Mathematics Teaching. Thanks to a Psychometric Fellowship from Educational Testing Service, he could then pursue graduate studies at Princeton University. Upon completing his PhD in 1966, he accepted a temporary lectureship in the Department of Psychology at University College London. The Department of Psychology at McGill University offered him a position the following year, and he spent the rest of his academic career there; he took sabbatical leaves in Cambridge, Grenoble, and Toulouse.
Jim has had a long and distinguished career as a researcher. He is internationally acclaimed as the founder of Functional Data Analysis. He has contributed widely to the development of the field and to its dissemination through numerous publications and software libraries in Matlab and R. His bestselling books with Bernard Silverman, entitled Functional Data Analysis (1997, 2005) and Applied Functional Data Analysis (2002) are highly influential; the monograph Functional Data Analysis in Matlab and R (2009), co-authored by Giles Hooker and Spencer Graves, has enjoyed the same runaway success.

Jim has also made highly influential contributions to multidimensional scaling and nonparametric statistics, in addition to solving a range of problems in psychometrics and much more. He published over 80 articles to this day, many in top-tier journals such as Psychometrika, the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Biometrika, Biometrics, etc. No fewer than three of his papers (on multidimensional scaling, functional data analysis, and parameter estimation for nonlinear dynamic systems) were presented at meetings of the Royal Statistical Society and later published with discussion in the Society's Journal (Series B). His paper on monotone smoothing splines (Statistical Science, 1988) is still the centerpiece of much discussion about constrained nonparametric inference. And of course his paper entitled "When the data are functions" (Psychometrika, 1982), which launched Functional Data Analysis, is a classic.

In recognition of his work, Jim was awarded the 1998 Gold Medal of the SSC. Together with Nancy Heckman, he was also the recipient of The Canadian Journal of Statistics Best

Paper Award in 2000. Members of the SSC have often had a chance to hear him speak at their Annual Meeting, and they have appreciated his involvement in the Society in various capacities, most notably as President (2002-2003). A fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association, Jim also served as President of the Psychometric Society (1981-1982) and as Chair of his department (1986-1989), among others.

Jim was married to Maureen Tighe in 1966. Their children grew up in Verdun, a working class neighborhood of Montréal. One of them, Tim, became a statistician, two are French immersion teachers, one is a programmer, and the youngest is a contemporary artist. Following his retirement from McGill, Jim moved with his wife to Ottawa, where he is as active as ever in research and student mentoring. An avid sportsman, he loves cross-country skiing and canoeing; two years ago, he also cycled all the way from Vancouver to Winnipeg!

The citation for the award reads: 

"To James O. Ramsay, for his leading role in the development of functional data analysis and modeling of dynamic processes; for his contributions to psychometrics; for constantly promoting the use of the best statistical methods in research; and for his mentoring of young statisticians."