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Gérard Théodore (1920 – 2012)

 

Gérard Théodore passed away on June 10, 2012. He was 91 years old. Many ISI members will remember his tall one-legged and red-haired figure bearing on a pair of crutches.

 

He was elected ISI member in 1971, 41 years ago and remained a member until his death. He was well known to the older ISI members as one of the founding members of the IASS that was formally created during the 39th ISI session in Vienna, Austria, in August of 1973. Gérard Théodore participated in this creation with enthusiasm and resoluteness, together with some legendary survey statisticians such as Tore Dalenius, Jacques Desabie, Ivan Fellegi, Morris Hansen, Leslie Kish, or P. C. Mahalanobis (who unfortunately died before the ISI Vienna session). In Vienna, he proposed to welcome the IASS Secretariat in the premises of the INSEE (the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies). Thanks to this support that was extended until recent months, the IASS rapidly became one of the most active sections of the ISI family. Gérard Théodore played a prominent role in the management of the Association and was its President from 1981 to 1983.

 

Gérard Théodore not only participated actively in the development of the French statistical system, but was also an actor in the history of France during a very difficult period. 

 

In 1939, he was 19 years old and pursuing brillant scientific studies. He prepared the competitive entrance examination to the prestigious and influential Ecole Polytechnique. He was not mobilized into army because of his age. During the invasion of France by the German Army in the Spring of 1940, owing to his deep patriotism and profound rejection of the Nazi ideology, he did not hesitate to respond to the famous call made by General de Gaulle on BBC’s waves on June 18, 1940. He succeeded to reach England on June 28, ten days after de Gaulle’s call, and joined the Free French Forces as early as the 1st of July, 1940. He thus was among the first to join General de Gaulle in London. He was assigned to a section of artillery in the 1st Free French Brigade. Promoted aspirant, his Brigade took actively part in the Libyan campaign that was concluded by the defeat of the German Afrika Korps. The French Brigade held a strategic position at Bir Hakeim on the side of the Allied deployment. In this position, on June 8, 1942, Gérard Théodore, although slightly wounded by a German shot, courageously remained at his post, and one hour later, lost his left leg torn off by a sharpnel and suffrered other severe wounds. Evacuated to Tobruk, he was treated at the Hospital of Beirut where he was awarded with the Cross of the Liberation by General de Gaulle. He was later assigned to the Headquarters of the French Free Forces, and then sent on a mission to France shortly after the Allied Landing in Normandy. He participated in the Liberation of Paris where he arrived on August 24, 1944. He was recently promoted ‘Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur’, the second highest of the five ranks of the most prestigious French Order. On the occasion of his burial on June 19, 2012, Gérard Théodore received military honors.

After leaving the Army in 1945, he resumed his scolarship at the Statistical Institute of the Paris University and became ‘Administrateur de l’INSEE’ in 1946. His career covered three major fields (statistics in overseas territories, agricultural statistics and management of INSEE) united by a common denominator that he qualified himself as the “production of statistical documentation”.

 

During the first fifteen years of his career, he was seconded to the administration of French colonies where he served as Head of the statistical service of Cameroon in Yaoundé, and later on of French Equatorial Africa in Brazzaville. In 1951, he was appointed Deputy Director of the Central Statistical Service at the Ministry of French Overseas Territories. In that position, he played a prominent and most active role in the methodological development and the implementation of the first sample surveys (demography, household expenditures, agriculture) ever conducted in French colonies in Subsaharan Africa and Indochina Peninsula. In particular, he headed the Demographic Mission in Guinea in 1954 and 1955 and contributed to FAO training centers in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1953, and in Bingerville, Côte-d'Ivoire in 1957. Thanks to his commitment, a major effort was accomplished in training African statisticians and the memories he left in Subsaharan Africa are still alive today.

 

In 1961, he became Director of the Central Service for Statistical Surveys and Studies in the Ministry of Agriculture. At that time, the French agricultural statistics were somewhat dilapidated and there was a strong pressure from the European Economic Community to rebuild them, in France as well as in the five other member countries, in order to monitor the Common Agricultural Policy. Gérard Théodore applied similar methodological approach as the one he developed in Africa to set up a real system of agricultural statistics and established a strong network of statisticians at national, regional and sub-regional levels. This statistical service is still, 40 years after he left it, one of the most important within the French Statistical System. Throughout this period, he made remarkable efforts to keep the figures neutral, representative, reliable and accurate. His action allowed all development goals he proposed in 1961 to be met during the decade; it reached a peak with the realization in 1970 of a general census of agriculture that was an unprecedented success with, in particular, an excellent coverage. During this period, he continued to play an important role at international level as the French representative in the FAO Advisory Committee for Agricultural Statistics. He also became member of several statistical societies, the Paris Statistical Society, the Royal Statistical Society and, of course, the ISI.

 

In 1972, the assessment of the internal organisation of INSEE pointed out that an important challenge was to control the articulation of the centralized conception of statistical projects and the highly dispersed field work. McKinsey recommended the creation within INSEE of a specialised directorate regrouping the monitoring of all operations necessary for data production (data collection, encoding and processing). With his eleven years of successful and innovative experience in the statistical department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Gérard Théodore seemed the right person to face this new challenge. It was not difficult to convince him that the creation of this directorate was relevant; it was more difficult for him to accept the position of director of this new unit because of his commitment and dedication to agricultural statistics. He nevertheless accepted and remained Director of this directorate until 1983. This period was rich in events of all kinds, including the realization of two population censuses in 1975 and 1982, and the implementation of important technical innovations in data encoding and processing.

 

In 1983, Gérard Théodore joined the General Audit Service of INSEE where he produced two important reports that are still on our agenda today: one on the quality of statistical data, and the second on the improvement of statistics on poverty and precariousness.

 

After his retirement from the civil service in 1985, he remained very active. In particular he served as a scientific adviser to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. The 47th ISI session was held in the International Conference Center of the Cité from August 29 to September 6, 1989. He was very instrumental in helping the Executive Secretariat of the National Organizing Committee of the Session to negotiate an affordable conference package. The session was actually very successful. 

 

Gérard Théodore was a tireless worker. He was very demanding with his collaborators but he was always ready to listen to them and take into account their opinions and advice, He was not only a great French and international statistician, but also a French patriot, an European activist and a Citizen of the World.

 

He will be greatly missed by the ISI membership.

 

September 2012

Jean-Louis BODIN

Xavier CHAROY

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