Jack Hall, Influential Statistics Expert and Former University Chair, Dies

October 17, 2012

Jack Hall, Ph.D.

W. Jackson “Jack” Hall, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Statistics, Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, and an international authority on statistical designs for modern clinical trials, died peacefully on Oct. 14.

Dr. Hall, who was 82, spent the last several weeks of his life at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, and then at the Webster Comfort Care Home, where he received excellent care, kindness, and support from family and friends, said his wife, Nancy Hall. She added that he was especially appreciative of the care he received from Wilmot oncologist Supriya Mohile, M.D.

“I cannot say enough about Wilmot and the Webster Home,” Mrs. Hall said. “They made this difficult time bearable, and I believe that Jack’s friends at the University will be comforted to know that he was so well-treated.”

Dr. Hall was recruited to the University of Rochester in 1969 to chair the new Department of Statistics, serving as chair for 14 years. He was instrumental in developing the doctoral program in Statistics, and later was a force behind the formation of the Division of Biostatistics (now the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology) in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.  

Throughout a distinguished career that spanned more than 40 years in Rochester, Dr. Hall made numerous contributions to the field of mathematical statistics. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the American Statistical Association, and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.

One of his greatest achievements was converting a mathematical theory known as sequential design and applying it to clinical trials, said David Oakes, Ph.D., a close friend and 30-year colleague, and professor of Biostatistics and Statistics at URMC.

The groundbreaking work in sequential analysis enables researchers to closely study fewer patients and stop clinical trials earlier, while still obtaining powerful results. Sequential design became a national model for clinical trials, due to its cost savings and ability to provide early insights about the viability of an experimental treatment and its impact on patients.

Dr. Hall’s statistical designs were applied broadly within the Heart Research Follow-up Program in the Cardiology Division, under the leadership of Arthur Moss, M.D. He was deeply involved in the success of the MADIT clinical studies, which have improved treatment for legions of heart patients, said Wojciech Zareba, M.D, Ph.D., professor of Medicine/Cardiology and director of the Heart Research Follow-up Program.

“Jack Hall was crucial for so many projects and studies conducted by Heart Research, and whenever we’ve had a dilemma regarding data he was always available,” Zareba said. “He was unique in his friendly, straightforward approach and collaborative spirit. There was no pretention. He was simply a great man with a great mind, which made him a desired teacher, mentor, and friend.”

Dr. Hall authored more than 150 papers and served as associate editor for the Annals of Statistics and the Journal of the American Statistical Association. He studied and taught at Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, Stanford University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received his doctorate in 1955. He also attended the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge as a Fulbright Scholar, and held visiting positions at many more schools.

In 2004 he was the first recipient of the Lifetime Award for Graduate Education, conferred by the University of Rochester to honor his love of teaching and exceptional commitment to students.

Robert Strawderman, Sc.D., who began a new term as chair of Biostatistics and Computational Biology just a few months ago, said that prior to his July 1 appointment he sought Dr. Hall’s counsel.

“His opinion and his enthusiasm mattered a lot to me, and influenced my decision to come here,” Strawderman said. “I have great respect for what he’s done. He was a wonderful person.”

Dr. Hall, who lived in Brighton, was known to ride a bicycle to work for many years. He also was an avid skier and outdoorsman. In addition to his wife, Nancy, he is survived by children Rebecca, Bryan, and Kay Cohen, and stepchildren Barbara Hufsmith and Edwin Hufsmith, and seven grandchildren. His daughter, Jacqueline Minet, predeceased him.

A memorial service is being planned for Nov. 3 at First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, 14610.  The Biostatistics department is setting up a fund in Dr. Hall’s honor, to endow the William Jackson Hall Graduate Student Fellowship. For more information contact Carmen Aiezza at (585) 275-0808, or Carmen.aiezza@rochester.edu

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