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Professor Roger Mead (1938 - 2015)

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Roger Mead, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, died at home on 10th August 2015 after a long, debilitating illness.

After studying Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Cambridge, Roger worked for the Agricultural Research Council at the National Vegetable Research Station, Wellesbourne, from 1961 before joining the fledgling Department of Applied Statistics as Lecturer in 1966 - subsequently being promoted to Senior Lecturer (1971), Reader (1978), and Professor (1984). Roger was Head of Department 1974-77, while Robert Curnow held a Deanship, taking over more permanently in 1986. This continued until he became Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food in 1993, then Deputy Vice-Chancellor for 4 years from October 1996 until his retirement.

Initially the Unit of Biometry, Applied Statistics was an offshoot of the then Department of Agricultural Botany, and a natural destination after an agricultural research station. Advisory work was a major strand of the Department’s work from the start, and Roger was very much involved, at first largely with Agriculture Faculty colleagues and postgraduate students, later very much more widely across the University and with external clientele. Thousands of students, colleagues and others had good reason to appreciate Roger’s kindly, while piercingly intelligent, support and guidance to their research. Over the years, generations of later additions to the Applied Statistics staff and postgraduate students were attracted to the University of Reading in particular because of the unique quality of the advisory involvement, and over decades all of them owed great debts to Roger as they learned the reality of making statistics meaningful and useful, frequently depending on his wisdom, and his generosity with his time.

Amongst the many other facets of a very rich life were his Madrigal Group, his surreal sense of humour, and arithmetical capabilities startling even to statisticians!

Possibly the most widely-known of any of Roger’s research is his joint paper in the Computer Journal some 50 years ago, modestly titled “A Simplex Method for Function Minimization”. This paper has some 20,000 citations and, known world-wide as the Nelder-Mead algorithm, not only remains a foundation to current research but is also widely applied in a diverse range of computer software.

The Department’s consulting and teaching work in agriculture provided the background to the highly-successful 1983 textbook with Robert Curnow, with second (1993) and third editions (2003) with Anne Hasted as additional author (Mead, R., R. N. Curnow, and A. M. Hasted (2003). Statistical Methods in Agriculture and Experimental Biology . Boca Raton, Fla: Chapman & Hall/CRC).

His magnum opus (Mead, R. (1988). The Design of Experiments: Statistical Principles for Practical Application. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.) provided a unique approach to his favoured field, imbued with his incisive insights, abounding intuition and massive scholarship. The most recent edition (Statistical Principles for the Design of Experiments) was co-authored (2012) by one of Roger’s Ph.D. students, Professor Steven Gilmour, and his son Andrew Mead, now Head of Applied Statistics at Rothamsted Research.

Reflecting his career interest, he stalwartly supported the International Biometric Society, serving with great distinction as International Secretary (1985-92); he was made an Honorary Life Member of the IBS in 2014.

Roger is survived by his wife Nina, sons Simon and Andrew, and daughter Rachel, and their flourishing families.

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