Obituary — Michael Woodroofe

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Michael Barrett Woodroofe, the Leonard J. Savage Professor Emeritus of Statistics, died Feb. 22, 2022, at age 81.

Woodroofe was born in Corvallis, Oregon, on March 17, 1940, to Helen Lucille Woodroofe (née Barrett) and Robin Russell Woodroofe. He grew up in the small town of Athena, in northeast Oregon. His mother taught English. His father was a farmer who also worked at a variety of other jobs, including in the soil conservation service and as a high school science teacher. Woodroofe remembered his parents quoting Shakespeare to one another over the dining room table.

Michael Woodroofe
Michael Woodroofe

Woodroofe graduated from McEwen High School in 1958. With the encouragement of his parents, he went to Stanford University where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 1962. As a son of a farming family, he did not feel that he fit in well at Stanford, and he went to the University of Oregon for his graduate work. He completed his Ph.D. in mathematics in just three years.

He then spent a year as a research associate at Stanford, followed by two years as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1968, he joined U-M as an assistant professor of mathematics. In 1969, he helped found (with Bill Ericson, Chuck Bell, Paul Dwyer, Bruce Hill, Norm Starr and, slightly later, Ed Rothman) the Department of Statistics.

Woodroofe remained at U-M, apart from several yearlong visits, for the remainder of his career. He was promoted to full professor in 1973, and served as department chair from 1977-83.

Also in Michigan, he met Frances Smock, an elementary school teacher. They married in 1974, and had three children: Russ, Carolyn and Blake. Woodroofe began playing hockey around age 50, when his son Blake started with the sport. He became an avid player, known around the Ann Arbor hockey community.

For many years, he spent part of the summer at a family cottage in northern Michigan. He later spoke in an interview about the benefits of a place with no internet and few distractions. Woodroofe was often seen biking into Mason Hall on Central Campus and was seldom seen without his pipe.

Woodroofe served as editor of the Annals of Statistics from 1992-94. After his term, the editorship was split between two people. In 1994, he was named the Leonard J. Savage Professor of Statistics. The department established a Michael Woodroofe Lecture series in 2008 to honor his contributions to the field.

Over his career, Woodroofe supervised more than 40 Ph.D. students and mentored many early career researchers. Many of his Ph.D. students have gone on to successful research careers.

Woodroofe retired as a professor emeritus in 2009. He began to lose his hearing in midlife, and this became severe in later years. He underwent surgery to correct an aneurism in 2010 and suffered a stroke during the surgery.

He continued to collaborate with co-authors, albeit at a diminished pace, until around 2017. His colleague David Siegmund recalled seeing him during this period, and said “he had trouble hearing and being heard by an audience. But when I asked him specific questions after his presentation, when the audience had left, he quickly filled the blackboard with symbols and answered my question as only he could.”

Woodroofe suffered from dementia in his last few years, and spent his final year in assisted living in Palm Bay, Florida. He remained physically active until the end. He died of complications from the dementia in the early morning of Feb. 22, 2022. He is survived by his wife and children, and by four grandchildren.

A longer version of this obituary can be found the Department of Statistics website.

Submitted by Russ Woodroofe

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