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Remembering Lai K. Chan (1940-2020)

Lai K. Chan

Photo Credit: Edmond So, South China Morning Post


The world statistical community mourns the loss of Dr. Lai K. Chan, an accomplished statistician and skilled administrator who died at home on 23 December 2020 at the age of 80. He was an Elected member of the International Statistical Institute since 1979. Born in Hong Kong on 5 November 1940, Lai was a 1962 graduate of the Hong Kong Baptist College. He completed his training at the University of Western Ontario, earning an MA in 1964 and a PhD in 1966.

He was an instructor at the University of Toronto in 1965-66 and then successively Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor at Western between 1966 and 1980. His early research was focused on distribution theory, estimation, asymptotics, and insurance applications.

In 1980, Lai became Head of the Department of Statistics at the University of Manitoba. He proposed quality control as a group research topic and reoriented his own work in this direction. His highly cited 1988 paper with Smiley Cheng and Fred Spiring on the so-called Taguchi capability index is archetypal of his and the department’s research in this area.

During Lai’s 14-year headship, the department’s reputation in quality management rose steadily, and awareness of the use of statistical methods for quality improvement was raised within the local business community through dozens of workshops on statistical process control, total quality, and industrial experimental design given by department members. During this period, Lai also served, among others, as Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Journal of Statistics (1992-94).

In 1994, Lai was named Professor and Chair of Applied Statistics and Operational Research at City University of Hong Kong (CUHK), where he was Head of the Management Science Department (1994-97, 2000-01). During his subsequent term as Dean of the Faculty of Business (2001-06), the CUHK College of Business launched many new programs and achieved AACSB accreditation. While publishing influential work on quality function deployment, Lai served the community, notably as a member of the Statistics Advisory Board for the Commissioner for Census and Statistics of the Hong Kong SAR, and as an advisor to China’s State Statistical Bureau.

In 2006, Lai took up yet another challenge by helping to develop Macao’s new University of Science and Technology. He served as Director of The Institute for Sustainable Development (2006-17), Vice President (2007-11), and Dean of the School of Business (2009-14). Meanwhile, he continued work begun in Hong Kong on the construction of economic indices such as the Centa-City Property Index (1999) by designing consumer confidence and satisfaction indices (2007-08), among others. He was also an advisor for the sustainable economic development strategy and the Pearl River Delta Region development plan for the Macao SAR Government.

Lai received numerous honours for his work, including an Elected membership in the International Statistical Institute (1979) and the title of Fellow of the American Statistical Association (1981), the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1985), the American Society for Quality (1990), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1991).

Lai owed his professional success to his energy, passion, and work ethics. He was an esteemed scholar and a visionary leader for whom honesty and respect for others were paramount. He left behind his wife of over 50 years (Fung-Yee), their three children (Bertha, David, Leo), and five grandchildren in whom he took great pride. We feel fortunate to have known him. He will be greatly missed but forever remembered.

Christian Genest, McGill University
John F. Brewster, University of Manitoba