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Loss Of A Legend

Texas A&M mourns loss of distinguished statistician Emanuel Parzen.
February 8, 2016

Carol and Dr. Emanuel Parzen.
Carol and Dr. Emanuel Parzen.

Dr. Emanuel Parzen, world-respected Texas A&M University statistician and expert in signal detection theory and time series analysis, died Saturday (Feb. 6) in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 86.

Funeral services were held today (Feb. 8) at Beth David Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, Fla., under the direction of Levitt-Weinstein Memorial Chapel for Parzen, an esteemed researcher and teacher who came to Texas A&M in 1978 as a distinguished professor in the Department of Statistics. Parzen retired in 2009 as a distinguished professor emeritus of statistics at Texas A&M but continued his research into his retirement. He and his wife, Carol, had relocated to Florida in July 2015.

Among other career achievements, Parzen pioneered the use of kernel density estimation — named the Parzen window in his honor — and authored six books, including “Modern Probability Theory and Its Applications,” which is considered one of the classic defining texts in probability theory. Thanks to him, Texas A&M is home to the Emanuel Parzen Prize Lecture Series established in the Department of Statistics in his honor in 1994 and presented in even-numbered years to North American statisticians in recognition of outstanding careers in the discipline and profession of statistics.

“Manny Parzen was a pioneer in statistics during its nascent stages of development in the 1960s,” said Dr. Valen E. Johnson, professor and head of Texas A&M Statistics. “He played a central role in the development of the theory of stochastic processes and was a pioneer in the fields of time series and spectral analyses in addition to making important contributions in the area of nonparametric statistics. His textbook “Modern Probability Theory and its Applications” is a classic text that continues to be widely used as reference in the field today.

“On a personal level, Manny was extremely engaging and always anxious to discuss new approaches toward statistical inference. The Department of Statistics — and the statistical community in general — has lost one of its giants.”

Parzen, who was born in New York City, received his master’s degree in mathematics in 1951 and a Ph.D. in mathematics and statistics in 1953 from the University of California, Berkeley after earning an undergraduate degrees in mathematics from Harvard University in 1949. He had held faculty appointments at Columbia University (1953-56), Stanford University (1956-1970) and State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo (1970-1978) prior to coming to Texas A&M, where he worked with inaugural head of Texas A&M Statistics H.O. Hartley and subsequent administrators throughout his three-decade Texas A&M career to establish the department as one of the nation’s leading programs in both graduate education and scholarly research. He had been a fellow at Imperial College London, IBM Systems Research Institute and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, as well as a visiting professor at the Sloan School of MIT, the Department of Statistics at Harvard and the Department of Biostatistics at Harvard.

“I will miss Manny so much,” said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, who came to Texas A&M along with Parzen in 1978 with his encouragement and knew Parzen for 45 years — first, as his Ph.D. student at SUNY Buffalo and later as Parzen’s department head (1990-1997) and dean (2002-2015). He also interviewed Parzen for Project Euclid in 2002. “He and his wife, Carol, are great friends to me and my wife, Linda. He was my mentor, my confidant and the man to whom I could always go to get his wisdom. It is hard to believe this tremendous life force is gone.”

Parzen was an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1994, he was honored with the ASA’s prestigious Samuel S. Wilks Memorial Medal “for outstanding research in time-series analysis, especially for his innovative introduction of reproducing kernel spaces, spectral analysis and spectrum smoothing; for pioneering contributions in quantile and density quantile functions and estimation; for unusually successful and influential textbooks in probability and stochastic processes; for excellent and enthusiastic teaching and dissemination of statistical knowledge; and for a commitment to service on society councils, government advisory committees and editorial boards.” Most recently, Parzen received the 2005 Gottfried E. Noether Award “for a lifetime of outstanding achievements and contributions in the field of nonparametric statistics, both in research and teaching.”

“Dr. Parzen was a universal man of science, his interests going far beyond the traditional boundaries of statistics and time series analysis,” said Dr. Mohsen Pourahmadi, a professor of statistics at Texas A&M since 2008 and a close colleague. “With him, every moment was a teachable moment. One could approach him at any time, busy or not. His favorite quote for such situations was, ‘Busy people have time.’ He was a great role model, mentor and source of inspiration for many, and a great citizen of the Department of Statistics at Texas A&M.”

Parzen is survived by his wife of 57 years, Carol, of Boca Raton; his daughter, Sarah Schandelson, and son-in-law, Martin, also of Boca Raton; his son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Andrea, of Cambridge, Mass.; and six grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Texas A&M Foundation and dedicated toward the Parzen Prize. Cards, letters and other written forms of condolence also may be addressed to the Parzen Family in care of  Michael Parzen, Department of Statistics, Harvard University, 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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