Lucien arrived in Berkeley around Easter 1950. He passed away on April 25, this year, two days after the Easter.. He had been at Berkeley almost exactly fifty years. He came as a lecturer from Paris at the invitation of Neyman. Then Neyman urged him to study for a Ph.D. Lucien wrote his Ph.D. thesis in six months. By 1960, he became Full Professor of Statistics.
Since 1973, he held a joint appointment as Professor of Mathematics and Statistics. This, of course, is quite natural. Lucien was viewed by many as the mathematically most powerful statistician in the world. He had contributed immensely to the development of theoretical statistics and probability theory. He was a founding father of modern mathematical statistics. Perhaps not so widely known was his fundamental contribution to applied statistics. His 1961 Berkeley Symposium paper laid the mathematical foundation of using point process models for precipitation. It is known as Le Cams model for rain fields in hydrology. The point process approach used in his students thesis, Odd Aalens thesis, has been a standard research method in biostatistics for the last quarter of a century.
I was very privileged to be a student of his, and had the great fortune of working with him on several projects, including a small book on asymptotics. Its second edition has just been published by Springer. The book was essentially finished shortly before Lucien passed away.
Mr. Le Cam, as we students called him, was well-known for his deep and mathematically hard lectures. The students were in awe of how rich and how challenging his lectures were. We could follow him generally but were left behind in details. He lectured from general to particular and never used notes. He would not have approved of me now reading from my notes.
I remember his first lecture on asymptotics well. He said he will discuss 17 different types of convergence of probability measures. He then wrote 17 of them on the blackboard without missing a single one. It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience. Years later, I learned that Lucien had a photographic memory.
The students worked very hard on his course and had numerous group discussions back then, in the temporary building after the class. Many of us stayed in contact after graduation, we felt we had survived as a group.
Teaching did not stop when the classes were over. Luciens office door was always open. He would try to provide answers to whomever came to ask questions. Some times he would provide written answers, twenty or thirty pages long (new theorems included) and give them away. Retirement in 1991 did not change his routine. He came to the office every day until he was hospitalized, four days before his passing.
Officially he had 38 Ph.D. students, but that is a gross under-count. He advised many others who came to him with questions. He treated all students alike; his and others. He was patient, kind and extremely generous with his time and ideas. The discussions could go on for hours.
He cared a great deal about students well being. Perhaps that was not as obvious since he hardly socialized with students. He persuaded some discouraged students who left Berkeley without finishing their theses to come back. He then helped them to finish the thesis. The breadth and depth of his knowledge was legendary, he could advise on just about any thesis topic. The same helping hand was extended to students in other countries by correspondence.
Despite his failing physical condition in the last months, he was deeply involved and managed to finish some editorial work on a festshrift for one of his own students. He fought for students. One day he read in the newspaper that the university was planning on a tuition hike. He wrote a protest letter to the President, I will read some passages from the letter. It was written in a typical Le Camian style.
" Dear President Hitch:
We read with surprise, and great sadness the Chronicles report on your statement concerning tuition. Reagan was elected on his promise to reduce this University to the level of his own Alma Mater, but we had not expected that he would be successful enough to enroll the cooperation of the University Administration in that effort.
Even if the financial situation of the University appears delicate, perhaps one should urge that no departure from the principle of free education should be contemplated until the state officials become able to compute better and make up their minds on the size of the budgetary surplus.
As your subordinates must be able to tell you, even the imposition of a rather large tuition is not likely to solve the problems of the University. In view of this it is perhaps reasonable to base ones decisions on considerations of the human harm that would ensue. This we expect to be great.
...A page of the letter is skipped...
Still concerning ability to pay schemes, it is not clear to me on what principle our state officials can decree that when a student reaches the canonical age of 21 he must still be subject to the whims of anybody in his family who happens to be a rich uncle. Or perhaps our governor would force those over 21 who support themselves by working nights at gas stations to pay tuition.
The foregoing may appear to be an attempt to rationalize some deep emotional feelings and perhaps it is. My personal history prepared me to these feelings. Of course this is of no interest to the administration so it will not be elaborated here. It suffices to say that I happened to be born in a different country from a family which was not extremely wealthyfor the first five or six years of my life we could not afford mattresses for instance. As a boy I witnessed officials arguing with my parents about their ability to pay for my elder brothers high school expenses. I also remember that when my time came my parents decided not to submit themselves to the same humiliation.
cc/ Dean Sanford S. Elberg"
Indeed, he believed in free education and learning. He was concerned with spiraling book prices. To do something about it, he negotiated a deal with his publisher to bring the price of his book down by forgoing the royalty. This was his 1986 book which he spent 30 some years to write.
In keeping with his principle of free education, Louise has decided to donate Luciens books to Peking University. A memorial library will be established in their department of statistics and probability in honor of Lucien.
Lucien lectured at Peking University. In 1985, Lucien, Louise and I took a month-long trip to China. We lectured in several cities and had a grand tour of the south, visiting several major cities along the Yangtze river from Shanghai to Gui-Lin and using all modes of transportation, airplane, train, car and boat. I remember vividly a dinner hosted by The Academia Sinica in Beijing upon our arrival. Among the guests was a vice minister for education. As soon as we sat down at the table, he asked Lucien "What do you think of the Fuzzy sets?" It was a totally unexpected question from a man who hardly knew any math. Apparently he had prepared himself for the occasion. Luciens answer was quick and witty. They became friends and had exchanged correspondence. I wonder if the answer had any impact on the funding of fuzzy set research in China.
Throughout the trip, there were interesting questions and one unusual request. In Wuhan, an executive from a truck manufacturing company brought a group of engineers to visit us. He wanted us to give lectures on statistical quality control. Lucien never worked in quality control. But he complied. He looked at some borrowed papers and and gave a wonderful lecture on the Taguchi method. We were told that the truck factory was the second largest in China and they used Romig table for quality control. When they learned that Louise was Harry Romigs daughter, they immediately extended the invitation to Louise to lecture on quality control. Louise politely declined.
The last time I saw Lucien was last November. He was not feeling well. He said to me, quoting General MacArthur, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."
Lucien will never fade away. He was larger than life.
His work will live on. He will live in the hearts of his friends and students.