Don Fraser, Officer of the Order of Canada

“There are too many of my students on the dance floor”. That was at a wedding party (mine!) more than twenty years ago, and Don Fraser was resisting efforts to make him dance. Many of the guests (on the dance floor) were actually my colleagues at UBC and elsewhere, full professors and all. Most were indeed former students at the University of Toronto, where for over half a century Don Fraser taught and guided generation after generation of mathematicians and statisticians.  Don Fraser is simply the founding father of Canadian statistics and for that he was recently appointed Officer of the Order of Canada.

This is frankly a long overdue honor that finally recognizes the leadership of Don Fraser and his profound influence on the advancement of the statistical sciences internationally and in Canada. Through his training and mentoring of several generations of leaders, and his strikingly original and important research in the theory of statistics, Don Fraser has made lasting contributions to Canadian society and Canadian science.

Now the field of statistical science is relatively young, and for many years the major academic centres of statistical science were in the United Kingdom and in the United States. With his stellar student accomplishments (Putnam competition and all),  he could have easily secured, upon graduating, a faculty position in any one of the top US or UK universities. He chose instead to spend his entire career in Canada, and by virtue of his stature in the discipline has succeeded in establishing Canada as a leading intellectual force in the statistical sciences, ahead of France for example and most other European countries.

And yes folks, our country is now admired around the world for the exceptional quality of its “Statistics Canada,” for its outstanding undergraduate programs, for its vibrant community of statistical researchers, and for its remarkable strength in statistical theory.  No one would argue that each of these owes a direct and profound debt to Don Fraser’s many years of leadership.

Don is relentless in his pursuit of scholarly achievements. He continues -after more than 60 years of total dedication to statistical science- to encourage and inspire both undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Toronto through a full program of teaching and research.

Last summer, he wrote a guest blogpost for “Piece of mind”. He was fuming at NSERC’s entrenched bureaucracy and the way it handled his latest research grant application. You can’t but have the most profound admiration for the man’s determination and eagerness to continue to contribute to this country’s scholarship. And you can’t but scorn and ridicule the intransigeant and patronizing bureaucracy that just couldn’t get it. Let’s hope that they will, now.

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