I would most likely not exist if it were not for George Box. My father took a course from George while my father was a student at Princeton. George agreed to start the Statistics Department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and my father followed him to Madison, to be the first PhD student. Dad graduated, and the next year was a professor there, where he and George remained for the rest of their careers.
George died today, he was born in 1919. He recently completed An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box which is an excellent book that captures his great ability to tell stories. It is a wonderful read for anyone interested in statistics and management improvement or just great stories of an interesting life.
George Box was a fantastic statistician. I am not the person to judge, but from what I have read one of the handful of most important applied statisticians of the last 100 years. His contributions are enormous. Several well know statistical methods are known by his name, including:
George was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979. He also served as president of the American Statistics Association in 1978. George is also an honorary member of ASQ.
George was a very kind, caring and fun person. He was a gifted storyteller and writer. He had the ability to present ideas so they were easy to comprehend and appreciate. While his writing was great, seeing him in person added so much more. Growing up I was able to enjoy his stories often, at our house or his. The last time I was in Madison, my brother and I visited with him and again listened to his marvelous stories about Carl Pearson, Ronald Fisher and so much more. He was one those special people that made you very happy whenever you were near him.
George Box, Stuart Hunter and Bill Hunter (my father) wrote what has become a classic text for experimenters in scientific and business circles, Statistics for Experimenters. I am biased but I think this is acknowledged as one of (if not the) most important books on design of experiments.
George also wrote other classic books: Time series analysis: Forecasting and control (1979, with Gwilym Jenkins) and Bayesian inference in statistical analysis. (1973, with George C. Tiao).
George Box and Bill Hunter co-founded the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. The Center develops, advances and communicates quality improvement methods and ideas.
The Box Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Industrial Statistics recognizes development and the application of statistical methods in European business and industry in his honor.
A few selected articles and reports by George Box
- William G. Hunter: An Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement
- The Scientific Context of Quality Improvement
- Statistics for Discovery
- Statistics as a Catalyst to Learning by Scientific Method
- Improving Almost Anything – collection of great articles and reports
Related: Bradley Jones posted his thoughts on George – remembrance by Professor Bovas Abraham – En Memoria de George E. P. Box, Doctor Honoris Causa por la UC3M by Daniel Peña – George Box, (1919-2013): a wit, a kind man and a statistician by Julian Champkin, Significance Magazine – UK Royal Statistical Society – Statistics for the Rest of Us
And a last message from George, “Experiment! Make it your motto day and night. Experiment, And it will lead you to the light …Be Curious, …Get Furious… Experiment, And you’ll see!” Experiment by Cole Porter
George E. P. “Pel” Box, age 93, died on Thursday, March 28, 2013, at home.
He was much loved and will be missed by many. A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, 2013, at First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison.
Pel was born in Gravesend, Kent, England in 1919. Born into modest means, both he and his brother, Jack earned scholarships in order to attend the more elite public school in Kent. Pel began his scientific life as a chemist, publishing his first paper at the age of 19 on the activated sludge process to produce clean effluent. Understanding the dangers of fascism, he abandoned his education and enlisted in the army on the very first day he was eligible. During his six years in the army he eventually was sent to Porton Down Experimental Station to study the potential impact of poison gases. George realized that only a statistician could get reliable results from experiments so he taught himself statistics and a career was born.
After the war, George worked at Imperial Chemical Industries for eight years, spending 1953, however, at North Carolina State where he met some of the pre-eminent statisticians of the day. After working again in England for a few years, he left ICI and went to Princeton University in 1956 to direct a statistical research group. George came to Madison in 1959 establish the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Statistics in 1960 and retired as an emeritus professor in 1992, though he continued to contribute research papers and write books until his death. George co-founded the UW Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement with William “Bill” Hunter in 1985. He wrote and co-authored major statistical books on evolutionary operation, times-series, Bayesian analysis, the design of experiments, statistical control, and quality improvement. George loved his students and was proud all their contributions. His last book, a memoir called, An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of G.E.P. Box, is soon to be published by Wiley.
George received many honors, including being elected Vilas Research Professor of Statistics at the UW Madison in 1980, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1985. George is remembered for his long-running Monday Night Beer and Statistics sessions, held at his house and open to all campus researchers and students. He provided analysis and suggestions, and many students later said that they learned more from these sessions than from any classroom or textbook. Pel had encyclopedic knowledge of song lyrics and almost every poem or verse he had every heard. His favorite book, however, was Alice in Wonderland. We also remember his skits and songs such as “There’s No Theorem Like Bayes’ Theorem.” We treasure him for his wit, modesty, kindness and warmth; his love of family and friends.
He is survived by his wife, Claire Quist Box; his former wife, Joan Gunhild Box; their daughter, Helen Elizabeth Box (Tom Murtha) and children, Isaac and Andy of Oak Park, IL; son, Harry Christopher Box (Stacey) and children, Henry and Eliza of Cummington, Mass.; son, Simon (Wendy) and children, Mark, Emma, and great-granddaughter, Olivia. He is also survived by the loving family of his late brother, Jack; Michael (Angela) and children, Sarah and Timothy; Roger (Jean); Margaret (Kevin) and son, James; and Dana (John) and children, Katie and Charlie.
A special thanks to Agrace HospiceCare in Madison for their steadfast and kind support. Heartfelt thanks for the loving care provided by Kolleen Bakkum and 3 year old Lincoln and deep gratitude to Gary (Frankie) Johnson for his many years of friendship and support. George was buried on April 2, 2013, at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in the Natural Path Sanctuary.
If you want to honor the memory of George, contributions could be made to UW Foundation-George Box Endowment Fund (for the support of graduate students) US Bank Lock Box 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278; Agrace HospiceCare, 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway Madison, WI 53711.
And a last message from George, “Experiment! Make it your motto day and night. Experiment, And it will lead you to the light …Be Curious, …Get Furious… Experiment, And you’ll see!” Cole Porter