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A conversation with Richard M. Cormack

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Richard Melville Cormack is one of the giants who developed the
theory of mark-recapture. Referring to his key paper in 1964, and the
papers published back-to-back in 1965 by George Jolly and George
Seber, the `Cormack-Jolly-Seber model' is central to the development
of mark-recapture methods for estimating survival.

Richard was born on 12 March 1935. His father was Principal of Stow
College of Engineering in Glasgow. From the age of 7, Richard attended
Glasgow Academy, and later entered directly into the second year at
Kings College, Cambridge, intending at the time to be a theoretical
astronomer. He secured first class honours in Special Mathematics from
London as an external student in 1954, and second class honours in
Mathematics from Cambridge in 1955. After changing direction, he left
Cambridge in 1956 with a Distinction in the Diploma in Mathematical

Richard's PhD, undertaken while a lecturer at Aberdeen, was completed
in 1961. Richard's period at Aberdeen (1956-66) coincided with
a golden era for statistics there, and his colleagues included D.J. Finney, Bill Brass, Peter Fisk, David M.G. Wishart, Michael
Sampford, Robert Curnow, George Jolly and Andrew Rutherford (the
last four being members of the ARC Unit of Statistics). In common
with a number of these colleagues, he moved to Edinburgh in 1966,
holding a Senior Lectureship there until 1972, when he became the
first Professor of Statistics at St Andrews.

Richard's groundbreaking contributions to mark-recapture in the
early 1960s continued when he addressed the issue of heterogeneity in
capture probabilities, publishing a test for heterogeneity in Biometrics
in 1966. Then in 1972, in another Biometrics paper, he showed the
logic behind capture-recapture estimates, making the methods more
accessible and understandable to the user community. In 1981, jointly
with Philip North, Richard published important insights into mark-recovery
models. His work on log-linear models for mark-recapture led
to papers in Biometrika in 1984 (with Ron Sandland) and 1991 (with
Peter Jupp), and in Biometrics in 1989, and additionally, to four book
chapters. There was also a sequence of Biometrics capture-recapture
papers in the 1990s: on modelling covariates (1990), on interval estimation
(1992) and on variance estimation (1993). After retirement in
1994, his publications in mark-recapture were mostly as co-author in
epidemiology studies.

Richard also published on other diverse topics, often with scientists
from other disciplines. His 1971 review of classification, read to the Research
Committee of RSS and later appearing in JRSS A, is a classic,
and while his 1988 exposition on statistical challenges in the environmental
sciences (also in JRSS A) has had substantially less impact, it
too showed his characteristic incisiveness. His contributions to a wide
range of committees, working groups, visiting groups and scientific organisations (including council member for NERC and the Freshwater
Biological Association) were substantial. He was elected a member of
the ISI in 1962 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1974.
He held various offices within the Biometric Society, as Secretary of
the British Region 1970-77, Regional President 1990-92 and President
of the International Society 1980-81. He served on the Council and
various committees of the Royal Statistical Society.

Richard married Edith Whittaker on 1st September 1960, at King's
College Chapel, Aberdeen. Edith is a plant ecologist, and a past chairperson
of the Fife and Kinross Branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust
and of the Friends of St Andrews Botanic Garden: she was also a founding
member of the Garden's Education Trust. Their son Andrew is a
European Chartered Engineer working for the JANET network, while
their daughter Anne is a Marketing Manager.

Photography has been a passion of Richard's for many decades. He
was lecturer and judge for 40 years for the Scottish Photographic Federation,
and was placed on their roll of honour. He has held exhibitions
in Dundee (Land of the Berbers), St Andrews (Growth and Form) and
Aberdeen (Walking in the North), and has given many talks.

Richard firmly established the University of St Andrews as a centre
for statistical ecology, a strength that continues today.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-150
JournalStatistical Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2016

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