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In Memoriam: Willem van Zwet

Willem van Zwet

31 March 1934 – 2 July 2020

Former ISI President Willem van Zwet passed away on 2 July 2020

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Willem van Zwet, former President of the International Statistical Institute (1997-1999) who passed away at his home in Oestgeest, The Netherlands, on 2 July 2020.

Willem van Zwet was Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Statistics at the University of Leiden, Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion and Member of the Academia Europaea.

Professor Van Zwet was an eminent statistician and an inspiration for many.

Our thoughts are with his family in this difficult time.

Ada van Krimpen
ISI Director

In Memoriam: Willem R. van Zwet

Willem R. van Zwet, emeritus professor at the Mathematical Institute of Leiden University in The Netherlands passed away on 2 July 2020. He was Honorary Member of the International Statistical Institute, an organization that he served in many roles, among which the Presidency during the 1997-1999 period.

Willem van Zwet (1934) came to Leiden University in 1965 and was there professor of Mathematical Statistics from 1968 until his retirement in 1999. Willem was both a renowned scientist and a powerful administrator. His work on asymptotic developments and higher-order efficiency of non-parametric statistics is well known, but he has also worked on a wide range of topics, including plant cell statistics and spatial stochastic processes. He used his enormous qualities as a director for Leiden, for example as dean, chairman of the board of the National Herbarium, or chairman of the scientific committee of the Leiden University Fund. Nationally he was also very active, for example as an advisor to the Mathematical Center (now CWI), as director and co-founder of the Thomas Stieltjes Institute and of EURANDOM, and as an initiator of the famous Stochastics Meetings Lunteren, which are still being continued. But even more important were his international activities, including the presidency of the three major international statistical organizations (IMS, Bernoulli Society, and ISI), editor-in-chief positions of two of the major journals, and board membership of the National Institute for Statistical Sciences in North Carolina. In 1985 he was chairman of the National Organizing Committee for the Centennial Session of the ISI, which was held in Amsterdam.

From 1967-1993, Willem was a frequent visiting scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, and from 1990-1998 he was Willem Newman professor at Chapel Hill. In addition to these and other close ties with the US, Willem also maintained intensive contacts with statisticians in the 'Eastern Bloc' and played an important role in the exchange between researchers on the two sides of the then 'iron curtain'. Willem received numerous prizes and honours for his work, including an honorary doctorate from Charles University in Prague. Willem was also at one time the scientific father of most statisticians in The Netherlands. His 16 PhD students took full advantage of his authority, support and inspiration, and pursued scientific careers at home and abroad. Willem's career coincides with a period of major changes in statistics, but also in the world of science in general. A 2006 interview by Rudy Beran and Nick Fisher gives an interesting and sometimes hilarious picture of that period and Willem's vision of it, which will also interest the young people of today. It was published in 2009 under the title "An Evening Spent with Bill van Zwet".

One of Willem's hobbies emerges in his answer to the question (common in interviews of this kind): If you were stuck on a desert island with a limited choice of reading materials which of your papers, among those available, would you take with you?
Willem van Zwet: "That is a strange question. Why would I take any of my papers? A crate of Dutch genever or bourbon if you like would make a lot more sense.”

This is a slightly adapted version of an obituary that Aad van der Vaart wrote for the website of the Mathematical Institute of Leiden University; it was translated into English by Richard Gill.