Colin R. Blyth (1922–2019)

Colin Blyth

Canadian statistician Colin Ross Blyth died on August 22, 2019, at the age of 96. Born in Guelph on October 24, 1922, he completed a BA in Mathematics in 1944 at Queen’s University. He pursued graduate studies at the University of Toronto (MA, 1946) and at the University of California at Berkeley (PhD, 1950), where he was Erich Lehmann’s first doctoral student.

Colin joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an assistant professor in 1950; he was promoted to associate professor in 1955 and full professor in 1959. From 1952 to 1955, he was also a statistical consultant for the Illinois State Geological Survey. As of 1971 he was a statistics professor at Queen’s University, where he remained until his retirement in 1987. During sabbatical leaves, he visited Stanford (1957–58), Oxford (1964–65), and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (1983–84). In 1992, he was also a visiting professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

Colin contributed to the development of classical mathematical statistics. His thesis was concerned with minimax decision procedures. He was the first to show that the average of a random sample of Gaussian variables is admissible and the method he used to prove this result bears his name. During his career, he authored or coauthored over 30 research papers in mathematics, statistics, and geology journals. He wrote on topics such as Stirling’s approximation, Simpson’s paradox, Cramér-Rao type inequalities, convolutions of Cauchy distributions, Neyman shortest unbiased confidence intervals, the relative efficiency of tests, as well as hypothesis estimation and acceptability profiles for two-by-two contingency tables. Many of his papers appeared in top-tier journals, including The Annals of Mathematical Statistics, the Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA), and Biometrika.

At Urbana-Champaign, Colin supervised five PhD students: Madanlal T. Wasan (1960), Wayne Nelson (1965), Glen Meeden (1968), Raman N. Pillai (1968), and Robert Staudte (1968); they all had successful careers and gave Colin over 30 academic descendants. In recognition of his contributions to the profession, including as an associate editor for JASA from 1967 to 1971, Colin was made a fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1974) and the American Statistical Association (1975). He was also granted membership to Pi Mu Epsilon and to Sigma Xi, both in 1949.

Colin was proud of his Scottish origins. His great grandfather Alexander, son of Glasgow brass founder Colin Blyth, came to the area in 1832 and married Janet McDonald, who had emigrated from Strathpeffer. Colin’s forefathers were shoemakers in Leith from the early 1600s, and from 1634 each of them, and down to Alexander, married a Highland girl.

A music enthusiast, Colin became a piper in the mid 1930s and played in various bands in Guelph, Toronto, and Kingston, including the Rob Roy Pipe Band (1971–83). He also had a strong interest in languages and started learning Gaelic in 1965. He served as chief of the Kingston and Toronto Gaelic Societies, and as a trustee of Mòd Ontario. Combining these two passions, he wrote Gaelic Names of Pipe Tunes in 1994 and edited Sullivan Ross Volume 1, A Restored Edition, published in 2010, which provides a unique window on the (bagpipe and violin) music of rural Ontario in the second half of the 19th century.

Very active throughout his retirement, Colin composed poems (notably “Kate o’Shanter,” published in Scottish Field in 1993 and reprinted in The Burns Chronicle, Spring 2009, p. 61) and became interested in prosody, the study of the rhythms and timing of verse; see, e.g., his paper “The prosody of Robert Burns” in The Burn Chronicle, 2009. Colin also published verse translations of mid 19th century German children’s classics: Struwwelpeter Tales of Hoffmann (1995), Struwwelpeter 2000 (2000) and Max & Moritz 2000 (2006).

Colin is survived by his wife of 64 years, Valerie Thompson, and their children, Mary Alice Snetsinger (Rob), Georgina Roche, Colin M. (Trish), Heather (Rob Smith), Alec (Lisa), and Donald, and by nine grandchildren. He will be sorely missed.


Figure caption: Photograph of Colin R. Blyth taken while he was attending the Struwwelpeter Reconsidered conference held at the University of Minnesota, November 9–11, 1995.

Photo credit: Marion Herzog-Hoinkis

by Christian Genest, McGill University, Montréal

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

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