H.O. Hartley, one of the most prominent and influential statisticians of the 20th century, arrived at Texas A&M University in July 1963 as a distinguished professor on a mission. He was tasked with leading what was then known as the Graduate Institute of Statistics — formed but a year earlier — with only a handful of faculty, two graduate students and the lofty mandate of providing statistical research, consulting and instruction for the entire campus.
During the ensuing decade and a half, Hartley built his initial faculty of four into a group of 16, directed more than 30 doctoral students and attracted significant research funding, near-singlehandedly changing the course of statistics as it would become known, not only at Texas A&M, but also across multiple pioneering facets of the discipline.
On Friday, October 23, the Texas A&M Department of Statistics will pay tribute to Hartley and his nearly 60-year Texas A&M legacy with a commemorative event, H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics: A Virtual Celebration, scheduled for 12 – 1:30 p.m. via Zoom.
Registration is required for the event, which is open to the public and set to feature opening remarks from Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Dean of Science Valen E. Johnson and a brief keynote address from Texas A&M Statistics Head and inaugural Hartley Chair holder Branislav Vidakovic. Additional highlights will include remarks and remembrances from some of Hartley’s namesake award recipients and former students, including two whose generosity helped establish the Hartley Chair at Texas A&M, as well as reflections from the Hartley family.
“I am honored and humbled to be the inaugural holder of the H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics,” Vidakovic said. “This chair is very special, because it represents a living memorial to the founder of statistics at Texas A&M — a brilliant and prolific statistician, a superb administrator and leader, and a noble human being. I am thankful to the College of Science and Texas A&M University for entrusting this chair to me and also to Drs. Ersen Arseven and William B. Smith for establishing this endowment in honor of their ‘academic father’ and his rich legacy that continues to have a profound influence on Texas A&M students and the larger statistical community.”
An elected fellow (1953) and former president of the American Statistical Association (1979-1980), Hartley is best known for his work concerning classical and numerical analysis, statistical computing, survey sampling, estimation with incomplete data and many other areas of statistics. Through his passion for mathematics, amiable demeanor and lively energy, Hartley won the hearts of his colleagues and students, who affectionately referred to him as HOH. Widely regarded as not only a brilliant academician, but also a warm and caring human being, Hartley was deeply committed to all phases of his profession, including education, research, and delivery of knowledge and advice to users of statistics.
Hartley earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Berlin University in 1934, a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from the University of Cambridge in 1940 and a Doctorate of Science in mathematical statistics from University College London in 1954. He taught at both UCL and Iowa State College before coming to Texas A&M. While at University College, he met Egon Pearson, with whom he collaborated to produce the classic two-volume Biometrika Tables for Statisticians, and also developed Hartley’s F-max test used to test equality of variances. Later at Iowa State, Hartley invented the EM algorithm, which is one of today’s most widely used estimation methods.
While at Texas A&M, Hartley published in excess of 75 papers in top-tiered journals from 1963 until his mandatory retirement in 1977. His research spanned a variety of pioneering topics, including sample survey estimation and design — for which he was famous — mathematical optimization, estimation with incomplete data, variance component estimation and the development of designed experiments to estimate safe doses of carcinogenic agents. He remained active at Texas A&M until 1979, when he accepted a full-time visiting professor position at Duke University while also serving as a statistician with the National Testing Service in Durham, N.C., until his death on December 30, 1980, from complications following heart surgery.
In addition to the ASA, Hartley was an elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1949) as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (1954). He also served as president of the Eastern North American Region of the Biometric Society (1959), which was the first region formed in the present-day International Biometric Society. During his lifetime, Hartley earned many accolades for his contributions to mathematics and statistics, including the ASA’s 1973 Samuel S. Wilks Medal recognizing his national and international efforts in the field of statistics. His legacy at Texas A&M continues to unfold via the H.O. Hartley Award presented annually for the past 40 years to a statistics former student who best reflects Hartley’s tradition of distinguished service to the discipline and the biannual Hartley Memorial Lecture Series also named in his honor.