It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of C.R. Rao, Emeritus Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Statistics at Penn State. Rao, who was 102 years old, died Tuesday, August 22, 2023 under hospice care at his daughter's home in Amherst, New York.
Rao made pioneering contributions to statistics research and education during his career, which began in 1945. Just this year, he was honored with the International Prize in Statistics, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the field of statistics. Rao served as a faculty member at Penn State from 1988 until his retirement in 2001. He became Emeritus Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Statistics and continued to participate as an active member of the department until 2010, when he and his wife moved to Buffalo to be with their daughter.
“It was really special to have a legendary figure like Professor Rao in the Department of Statistics at Penn State,” said Murali Haran, professor and department head of statistics. “Professor Rao made such foundational contributions to statistics that anyone who has taken an introductory undergraduate course in statistical theory knows his name, say through the Rao-Blackwell Theorem or the Cramer-Rao Lower Bound.”
Haran continued, “Ours is a relatively young discipline so having a conversation with him about his early days was like having a front row seat to the history of our field. He once told me how his thesis adviser, R.A. Fisher, generally considered the father of statistics, told him it wasn't enough to work out statistical theory, that he had to also work on applications and the process of data collection. As a result, even though he was a theorist, he ended up spending his early days in Cambridge conducting experiments! He was also quite friendly in social settings. He and his wife, Bhargavi, were excellent hosts and I've enjoyed, with other colleagues, multiple dinners at their home. It is through his largess that his legacy at Penn State will continue to live on—we not only award the prestigious Rao Prize but also the Khatri and Krishnaiah Lectureships.”
Rao’s contributions to mathematics and statistical theory and applications have become part of the graduate and postgraduate curricula in statistics, econometrics, electrical engineering, and many other disciplines at most universities worldwide, and his work has had a profound influence on the theory and application of statistics in diverse fields. Rao's research in multivariate analysis, for example, is used in economic planning, weather prediction, medical diagnosis, tracking the movements of spy planes, and monitoring the movements of spacecraft, and his 1965 text "Linear Statistical Inference and Its Applications" is one of the most often cited books in science.
“C.R. Rao made a lasting impact not only on the field of statistics and several other disciplines but also on his colleagues and students at Penn State,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “Losing a scientist of Rao’s stature reminds us of how our disciplines are built across generations and through collaborations. His work and influence will live on through the many scientists he has mentored through the years. We are grateful for the time he spent at Penn State and for the generosity he has shown our college, and we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Rao was the founding director of Penn State's Center for Multivariate Statistics. Every other year, the statistics department honors an outstanding statistician in his name with the C.R. and Bhargavi Rao Prize.
Over the course of his career, Rao published more than 475 scientific papers, authored or coauthored 16 books, and mentored more than 50 doctoral students. He has been honored with many prestigious awards, including the 2002 National Medal of Science, the highest science award in the United States; the 2010 India Science Award, the highest award given to a scientist in India; and the Royal Statistical Society's 2011 Guy Medal in Gold, the United Kingdom's highest award given to a statistician. He is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society, and a member of several other scientific societies around the world.
As a testament to the scope of Rao’s impact on the field of statistics, he received 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the world. An institute named in his honor at the University of Hyderabad, in India, opened in 2007.
“Professor Rao left us just short of his 103rd birthday, but his legendary contributions to statistical methodology and the impact of his work will last forever,” said Distinguished Professor of Statistics Jogesh Babu. “I first saw, but had not yet met, Professor Rao when I was a graduate student at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), in Calcutta, India. He was the director of ISI at that time. After I joined Penn State, Professor Rao invited me to spend summers at the Center for Multivariate Analysis at the University of Pittsburgh, to collaborate with him and others at the Center. It was a great honor, that I played an important role in bringing him to Penn State in 1988, as an Eberly Family Professor.”
“My wife Sudha knew Professor Rao's family much longer than I did,” Babu said. “She knew them since she was very young, as her aunt and Mrs. Rao worked together in a school in Calcutta. Once Mrs. Rao told my wife that the years she spent in State College are the best years of her life. We miss both Professor Rao and Mrs. Rao.”
Those who would like to share memories of Rao can do so at the Legacy website.