Francis John Anscombe, eminent professor and founder of Yale’s Statistics Department, died on Oct. 17. He was 83.
The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Department of Statistics.
Anscombe graduated with honors in mathematics from Trinity College in Cambridge, England in 1939 and received a master’s degree in 1943. He began teaching at Cambridge University in 1948 and then came to the United States to teach at Princeton University in 1956. Prodded by members of the Yale Economics Department, he founded the Department of Statistics in 1963.
During World War II Anscombe engineered the deployment of weapons for the English Ministry of Supply. He worked under the aegis of Duncan Sandys, Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s son-in-law, to develop anti-aircraft missiles and also helped orchestrate accurate firing sequences for the Allied D-Day invasion.
Anscombe was also an avid art enthusiast.
In 1951, he purchased a Francis Bacon painting for the Fitzwilliam Museum. After displaying the work for a couple of months, the museum returned the work to Anscombe saying it was too modern. When Bacon’s surrealist style became renowned, Anscombe sold the painting to pay for his children’s education.
Although Anscombe published more than 50 articles and a book during his lifetime, his colleagues say they will remember him most for his kindness.
He had a passion for problems of social relevance, and said once that it would behoove new doctorate recipients to work on a project that had “some definite mission.”
According to colleagues, Anscombe did a lot of work “behind the scenes” for which he did not take credit. He is described as gentle but straight-forward.
“He had a lot of class,” said fellow professor of statistics John Hartigan. “He would gently push you into the ways he wanted you to go.”
In addition to being an art guru, Anscombe wrote poetry, sang, and enjoyed playing the recorder. When he attended musical performances, he always brought a copy of the score so he could follow the piece.
His funeral was held last Thursday at St. John’s Episcopal Church.