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Convocation 2014: meet honorary grad David Brillinger

An avid hockey player in his youth, Brillinger lettered in two sports at U of T (all photos by John Guatto)

David Ross Brillinger is a world-renowned statistical scientist who has distinguished himself as an innovator and leader in the fields of random process theory and data analysis, risk analysis, spatial-temporal trajectory modeling, and sports statistics.

On June 10, the University of Toronto recognized the work of this remarkable alumni – work that has contributed to the fields of ecology, forestry, animal and marine biology, neuroscience, seismology and engineering – with a Doctor of Science, honoris causa

And the professor who hooded Brillinger? That honour went to Brillinger's former math teacher from the University of Toronto Schools, U of T Professor Emeritus Bruce MacLean - age 103. (See below.)

In an interview with Statistical Science in 2011, Brillinger recalled MacLean's support and guidance during his high school years.

"He would just let me work at the back of the room on my own. Everybody else was up toward the front, but he would just leave me alone at this table and bring these books full of problems," Brillinger told writer Victor M. Panaretos. "That brought me a scholarship that helped me make my way at University. Back then, prizes were important because there weren’t many bursaries. Now, in America, they’ve switched to means tests. But I won a lot of prizes as an undergraduate which kept my mother and me with food and so on."

Upon admission to U of T in 1955, Brillinger was awarded the Edward Blake Scholarship in Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Problems. He obtained his degree in Pure Mathematics, graduating from Victoria University at the University of Toronto. In 1958, he was one of the top five competitors in the Putnam Mathematical Competition, and the following year he was awarded the Simeon Heman Janes Silver Medal in Mathematics and Physics of Victoria University. He also earned a First Letter – Vic’s highest athletic colour – for his efforts at soccer and squash. He became a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve in 1959.

Brillinger went on to study at Princeton University, earning his MA and PhD in 1960 and 1961 respectively. He became an Associate of the Society of Actuaries in 1960. He held a postdoc at the London School of Economics and Political Science from 1961 – 1962, before returning to Princeton for two years as a halftime Lecturer and halftime Member of Technical Staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories. He returned to the London School of Economics for the period 1964 – 1969 as a Lecturer and then a Reader. Since 1970 he has been a professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Brillinger has served as president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Statistical Society of Canada and of the International Environmetric Society. He is a fellow of the American Society of Arts and Science, the Royal Society of Canada, and a foreign member of the Academies of Science of Brazil and Norway.

Among his many accolades, he has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Western Ontario, Waterloo and McMaster, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Parzen Prize, the Gold Medal and Honorary Membership in the Statistical Society of Canada.