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Harry V. Roberts, Professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business for 46 years


Harry V. Roberts, Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Quality Management at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business died August 14 at the Rest Haven South Nursing Home in South Holland, IL, at the age of 81. He joined the faculty in 1949, and continued to teach even after his retirement, teaching courses in Chicago GSB's executive education program in spring 1995. Roberts became professor emeritus in 1993. The cause of death was aspiration pneumonia.

Described by colleagues as an enthusiastic statistician who loved his work, Roberts' curiosity and passion for problem solving led him to continually reinvent himself through his long academic career.

"In addition to his selflessness as a colleague and a teacher, Harry had the paradoxical quality of being incredibly broad in his interests, but within those interests, incredibly deep," says Harry L. Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management at Chicago GSB. ?In many fields, Harry would often get involved early and set the research agenda for his peers. His interests always had a practical dimension, in terms of how people could use the research to do their work more effectively."

Davis adds, "Harry modeled the very best of what collegiality at Chicago GSB is about, and that is his enduring legacy. You can see his mark in ways beyond his research publications. He was an incredibly important part of the history of the school."

Roberts was a pioneer in looking at the applications of Bayesian statistics to business decision making. His varied research interests also included interactive computing; time series analysis; the relation between statistical theory and practical decision making; survey methodology and practice; and quality and productivity improvement.

Roberts was the co-author of many influential publications, including two groundbreaking books written with former Chicago GSB faculty members: Basic Methods of Marketing Research with James Lorie; and the textbook, Statistics: A New Approach, with W. Allan Wallis. He also co-authored an early work on the random walk hypothesis of stock market prices, "Differencing of Random Walks and Near Random Walks," with Nicholas Gonedes, published in the Journal of Econometrics in 1977.

Roberts was an early computer enthusiast, and was especially interested in developing computer methods for statistical analysis. In the late 1960s, Roberts, in collaboration with his wife June and Robert Ling, developed a statistics package called Interactive Data Analysis (IDA) making it possible to perform statistical tasks in any sequence, instead of having to follow rigid procedures. The program was used for statistical instruction at a number of top business schools.

Toward the end of his career, Roberts helped develop a curriculum in Total Quality Management at Chicago GSB.

"Harry was always accessible to his students and fellow faculty, and would spend enormous amounts of time helping with their problems," says John P. Gould, dean of the Graduate School of Business from 1983 to 1993, and current Steven G. Rothmeier Professor and Distinguished Service Professor of Economics. "He was also committed to being an effective teacher of statistics. Many generations of students have admired his innovations and energy in the classroom."

In 1997, Roberts was awarded the Norman Maclean Faculty Award from the University of Chicago. The Maclean Award recognizes emeritus faculty for the contributions they have made to teaching and to the student experience on campus.

In recognition of his career achievements, the Chicago chapter of the American Statistical Association named an award in Roberts' honor, the Harry V. Roberts Statistical Advocate Award. The first of these awards was given in January 2002.

Roberts received an A.B. from the University of Chicago in 1943, and shortly thereafter was drafted and served in World War II, serving in the 4th Armored Division. After fighting in France and Belgium, he was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and became a POW. Following the war, Roberts returned to Chicago and earned an MBA with honors in 1947 from the University of Chicago. After completing his MBA, Roberts worked in marketing research at the advertising firm McCann-Erickson.

Roberts began teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1949 as an instructor of statistics. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1951. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1955, and was appointed associate professor. He was made full professor in 1959, and was named Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Statistics and Quality Management in 1991.

Roberts is survived by his wife of 60 years, June, of South Holland; a son Andrew and daughter Mary D; and five grandchildren, including two sets of twins, Vincent and Veronique, Alexander and Benjamin, and Connor.

The Roberts family lived in Homewood, IL for nearly 50 years. Roberts was active in the Homewood community, serving as the former chairman of the Zone Board of Appeals and as a member of the Plan Commission and Rezoning Commission, as well as providing enrollment projections for Homewood-Flossmoor High School. Among his many hobbies, Roberts was best known as a serious runner, participating in marathons, and adding triathlons to his athletic pursuits in his early 60's.

Memorial services for Roberts will be private. A public memorial service may be held in the coming months. Memorial contributions may be sent to the Homewood Izaak Walton Preserve, 1100 Ridge Road, Homewood, IL 60430, or to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, 1101 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637.