Department of Mathematics
Posted on 20 March 2017
Dr Peter M. Lee
24 August 1940 - 10 March 2017
For a long time Peter was the only specialist in statistics on the staff of the department (though in the teaching of the subject he was keenly supported by Dr Richard Crossley and others). He was an enthusiastic advocate for Bayesian statistics and a leader of the modern revival of this form of statistics; his book Bayesian Statistics: an introduction, which was first published in 1989 and went into its fourth edition in 2012, is a standard textbook.
Peter was active in the running of the department, being Secretary of the Board of Studies (and writing minutes which made unusually entertaining reading), and then Chair from 1995 to 1999. He was also prominent in university committee work and in defending staff interests as Treasurer of the local branch of the Association of University Teachers (now the UCU).
He was Provost of Wentworth College from 1985 to 2005. He was also a member of Court of the University of Liverpool.
Peter was born in Leicester and grew up in Wigston Fields, Leicestershire. He attended Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School and was an undergraduate at the University of Liverpool. He graduated in 1962 with 1st class honours in Mathematics and received the Ronald Hudson Prize for Geometry and an honorary Derby Scholarship. He went on to be a research student at Churchill College and the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics in Cambridge, where his supervisor was John Kingman, and was awarded a PhD in 1966 for a thesis on Infinitely Divisible Stochastic Processes. He was then a Fellow of Peterhouse College until he took up a lecturership at York in 1972. He retired in 2005 and became an Honorary Fellow of the department.
A man of wide culture, Peter loved books, which he can be truly said to have devoured voraciously. He was always ready with an apt, and often humorous, quotation. He was a founding member and treasurer of the York Bibliographical Society, and a prominent member of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. He spoke fluent Russian, and travelled widely in Russia and elsewhere.
The words “affable” and “convivial” might have been coined to apply to Peter. He delighted in the company of students, as did they in his. Many of them remember him with the very greatest affection. Some of these travelled great distances to see him in his final days. His Mayday parties, timed to coincide with Labour Day and always hosted by Peter wearing a red tie, were a high point in the university calendar. For two hours Peter would stand behind a cauldron liberally dispensing a fearsome concoction of sparkling wine and peach slices (and who knows what else) that was the ruin of many an unsuspecting new guest. Some of us older hands somehow never acquired from previous years the wisdom to treat this potion with the respect it deserved. Outside the university, he put his impressive voice to good use as quizmaster in the Charles XII and the Wellington Arms. Without his huge personality, York will be a less colourful place.
He is survived by his sister Penni Walker-Barber, his niece Claudia and his great-nephew George. He is mourned by them and by an immense host of friends.
(Obituary provided by Prof. Tony Sudbery). (Photo: Christine Cockett).