WILK, Martin B.
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1922 - 2013
Martin Bradbury Wilk, born December 18, 1922 in Montreal, Canada, passed away peacefully at his home in Yorba Linda, California on Tuesday, February 19, 2013, surrounded by his family. In all aspects of his life; with his loving wife Dorothy and extended family, as an academic professor, private sector executive, public servant - most notably as a statistician and Chief Statistician of Canada, a consistent image emerges. Martin Wilk was an exceptional man; professionally brilliant and personally humble. He was universally recognized as a man of apparently unlimited stamina both intellectually and physically.
Throughout his diverse and remarkable career, Martin Wilk made major contributions in the field of statistics. Wilk achieved several scientific breakthroughs, notably the work he did with Ram Granadesikan on probability plotting for multivariate data, and with Sam Shapiro developing the Shapiro-Wilk test in 1965. Martin's higher education began with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Chemical Engineering from McGill University in 1945. From 1945-1950, he worked on the Atomic Energy Project at the National Research Council of Canada as a Research Chemical Engineer. From 1951 to 1955, Wilk was a Research Associate, Instructor and Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. There he received a Master of Science degree in Statistics in 1953 and a Ph.D in Statistics in 1955 while working closely with Oscar Kempthorne, with whom he collaborated on several papers.
Moving to New Jersey, Wilk worked from 1955-1957 as a Research Associate and Assistant Director of the Statistical Techniques Research Group at Princeton University. From 1959 -1963, Wilk was a Professor and Director of Research in Statistics at Rutgers University. In 1956, Wilk joined Bell Laboratories, ultimately becoming a Director there. In 1970, Wilk moved into higher executive levels of the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Company, occupying various positions culminating as Assistant Vice-President and Director of Corporate Planning. Wilk left a lasting legacy at AT&T, fundamentally transforming the way business was conducted at the top level according to Michael Godfrey an AT&T associate.
Beyond his professional accomplishments during this time, Martin and his first wife, Thora Sugrue had five children from 1952-1957: Rebecca, Carol, David, Teresa and Kathryn. In 1980, Martin Wilk returned to Canada and became the ?rst professional statistician to serve as Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada through 1986. There he turned around what was, in the late seventies, a troubled institution and led the resurgence of the institution's international standing. Wilk remained active after his retirement, serving as a Senior Advisor to the Privy Council Office as well as on several national commissions.
He also chaired the Canadian National Task Forces on Tourism Data and on Health Information. Wilk was a President of the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC) and Vice- President of the American Statistical Association (ASA). He was an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and an honorary member of the SSC. In 1999, Martin Wilk's contributions to Canada were recognized when he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for "his insightful guidance on important matters related to our country's national statistical system".
Throughout his life and career, Martin Wilk was known for his unwavering devotion to his extended family and his extraordinary ability to engage in or solve virtually any problem with his characteristic intellectual persistence. As Paul Reed, a colleague at Statistics Canada reminisced, "Martin was the most compelling man I ever met". The Canadian Statistical Society notes: "Martin is known particularly for his wit, for the forcefulness of his extemporaneous argument, for his piercing questioning, for his ability to recognize the central elements of a problem, for his lateral thinking and for his leadership. In conversation, he routinely comes out with comments like: 'Models must be used, but never believed'; 'Significance tests are things to do while one is trying to think of something sensible to do' and 'Insightfulness is generally more important than objectivity'". Ram Gnanadesikan recalled that "In his personal life and professional one, Martin threw himself in with enthusiasm, energy and enjoyment."
Michael Godfrey, a long-standing colleague of Martin's commented that (Wilk's) "own contributions made the world a better place". Ivan Fellegi, who followed Martin as Chief Statistician of Canada and considered Martin a role model, mentor and personal friend put it this way: "few people combine brilliance with common sense - Martin did". David Brillinger, who worked with Martin from his times at Bell Laboratories said it best "There are not many people of whom one can say that they made a difference, well Martin did throughout his whole career". Martin B. Wilk is survived by his wife Dorothy, his five children, eight grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. He is mourned by his innumerable friends and admirers.
Published in The Ottawa Citizen on Feb. 23, 2013