Lawrence “Larry” Brown

Lawrence David Brown, one of the leading statisticians of our time, passed away peacefully on February 21, 2018, at the age of 77, after a long battle with cancer. We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Larry, a teacher, a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. Larry preserved his unfailing fortitude and good humor to his last day.

Larry was the Miers Busch Professor of Statistics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He published five books and over 170 papers in leading statistics and probability journals. Larry was known for his extensive work in decision theory, especially on the admissibility of estimators of one or more parameters, and its connection to recurrence and partial differential equations. Larry also made fundamental contributions to the theory of nonparametric function estimation, including asymptotic equivalence theory, and minimax and adaptation theory. He also worked on a broad range of other topics including sequential analysis, properties of exponential families, foundations of statistical inference, conditional confidence, interval estimation and Edgeworth expansions, bioequivalence, and analysis of census data and call-center data.

Larry was the recipient of many honors for his profound contributions to the field of statistics. He was the President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1992–1993, co-editor of The Annals of Statistics for 1995–1997 and gave the prestigious Wald Memorial Lectures in 1985. In 1993, Purdue University awarded him an honorary D.Sc. degree in recognition of his distinguished achievements. He was named winner of the Wilks Memorial Award of the American Statistical Association in 2002 and the winner of the C.R. and B. Rao Prize in 2007. He was a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Larry provided exemplary public service for a number of organizations. He served on several panels and committees of the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Sciences, in particular over many years for the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and then as Chair of the NRC Committee on National Statistics from 2010 to 2018. He gave testimony concerning the 2000 US Census to the US Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1997, and to the US House of Representatives Committee in 1998.

Larry was much loved by his colleagues and his students, many of whom benefited tremendously from his wisdom and kindness. Larry highly valued teaching and mentoring students and new researchers —for whom he always found time and great energy despite his many obligations. He supervised 37 PhD students, many of whom hold leading positions in the United States and abroad. In addition to his own students, Larry also mentored many postdocs and junior faculty. He was the winner of the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.

Larry was born on December 16, 1940, in Los Angeles, California. His parents moved to Alexandria, VA, during World War II, then returned to California. His father, Louis Brown, was a successful tax lawyer and later a professor of law at the University of Southern California, where he worked tirelessly on behalf of client services and conflict prevention, for which he coined the phrase ‘preventive law.’ His mother, Hermione Kopp Brown, studied law in Virginia and then in Los Angeles and became one of the leading women lawyers in Los Angeles in the field of entertainment law, with emphasis on estate planning. Larry inherited their dedication for service, their mental acuity and resourcefulness, and their selfless good spirits. Larry graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1957 and from the California Institute of Technology in 1961 and earned his PhD in mathematics from Cornell University three years later. Initially hired at the University of California, Berkeley, he then taught in the mathematics department at Cornell University from 1966–72 and 1978–94 and in the statistics department at Rutgers University from1972–78. In 1994, he moved to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, serving as the Miers Busch Professor of Statistics, and taught his last course there in the fall of 2017.

His passion for his work was matched by his devotion to his family. His wife Linda Zhao survives him, as do their sons Frank and Louie, their daughter Yiwen Zhao, his daughters from his first marriage, Yona Alper and Sarah Ackman, his brothers Marshall and Harold and their wives Jane and Eileen, and 19 grandchildren.

Larry is deeply missed by all of us.

Written by James Berger (Duke University), Tony Cai (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), and Iain Johnstone (Stanford University)