Mary Thompson, Honorary Member 2021

Mary Thompson
Honorary Member

Mary E. Thompson, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Statistics at the University of Waterloo, has been named an Honorary Member of the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC). This award is intended to honor an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the development of the statistical sciences in Canada and whose work has had a major impact in this country.


Born on September 9, 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mary was the first child of Elinore Lindabury, a dietitian, and Norman Beattie, a teacher who served as a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. At the end of the war, the couple moved to Toronto, where Mary grew up with her three brothers.


Mary initially studied at the University of Toronto, receiving her BSc in mathematics in 1965. She went on to do graduate work at the University of Illinois, receiving her MSc in 1966 and PhD in 1969 under the direction of the renowned probabilist Joseph Doob. In 1968, she married Carl Thompson, a civil engineer, and was known as Mary Elinore Thompson from then on. They were together for 52 years until Carl’s death in late 2020. They were both hired at the University of Waterloo in 1969, where Mary was a part-time lecturer in the Department of Statistics before becoming an Assistant Professor in 1971. Her first child, Simon, was born in 1973 and coincidentally, her promotions to the ranks of Associate and Full Professor occurred in the same years as she had her two other children: Andrew (1975), and Alan (1980). Except for sabbatical leaves, Mary taught at Waterloo until her retirement in 2009.


Throughout her career, Mary has made outstanding contributions as a researcher, an educator, and a mentor. Her scientific discoveries, which are many, deep, and diverse, have contributed to the foundations of survey sampling, the analysis of survey data, estimation theory, and the study of stochastic processes. She authored over 135 refereed publications in these areas and an additional 24 papers in conference proceedings, as well as a dozen technical reports. Mary also has a keen interest in the methodology of health behavior surveys; she has been involved in the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project from its inception in 2002.


Mary’s excellence in research brought her many accolades over the years. She was made a Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1985, a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1998, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2006. The SSC recognized her achievements by awarding her the Gold Medal in 2003 and the Lise Manchester Award in 2012. Moreover, in 2009 she shared in the CIHR-CMAJ Top Canadian Achievements in Health Research Award and in 2016, her exceptional career and leadership were further acknowledged with honorary degrees from The University of Western Ontario and Vancouver Island University.


Over more than 40 years, Mary supervised 4 postdoctoral students, 30 PhD students and 21 MSc students, earning their deep affection with her genuine concern, her thoughtful advice, and her professional expertise. In 2007, she received the Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision from the University of Waterloo. Many of her students went on to have successful academic careers. In addition to being a role model for female students in her department, Mary worked to promote women in the mathematical sciences and to minimize gender-based inequalities. For those contributions, COPSS bestowed upon her the Elizabeth L. Scott Award in 2010.


At Waterloo, Mary had a distinguished record of service to her department and university. In the mid 1970s, she was already a member of an advisory committee on women faculty. From 1979 to 1984, she served as Associate Chair of Statistics. From 1988 to 1991, she was Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Mathematics. In 1997, she organized a survey research network at Waterloo, which led in 1999 to the establishment of the Survey Research Centre with Mary as one of the co-directors. From 1996 to 2000, she also served as Chair of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science and later spent a year as Acting Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics.


Mary has matched these contributions with exceptionally valuable service to statistics in Canada. From 1995 to 2006, and from 2009 to 2014, she was a member of the Advisory Committee on Statistical Methods at Statistics Canada. She served on NSERC’s Grant Selection Committee for the Statistical Sciences from 1992 to 1995 and was an Associate Editor for three journals: JASA (1983-85), The Canadian Journal of Statistics (1992-95, 1999-2001), and Survey Methodology (2004-19). She held many positions within the SSC, including Treasurer (1985-87) and President (2003-04). The capstone to her statistical service occurred in 2012 when she took a three-year term as the initial Director of the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI). In 2014, she received the SSC Distinguished Service Award.


Mother of three, and grandmother of four, Mary enjoys keeping up with family near and far, and taking long walks around Waterloo. She also volunteers in the community through her church. Her leisure pastimes include music, literature and drama, Canadian art history and family history.


The citation for the award reads: 

“To Mary E. Thompson, for her outstanding contributions to the development of statistical theory and methods related to the foundations of survey sampling, the analysis of survey data, estimation theory, and stochastic processes; for her exceptional commitment to training and mentoring of students and early career statisticians; and for her great dedication to the Canadian statistical community and the profession.”


This text was written by Christian Genest and David Bellhouse, who were also responsible for the nomination.