Colleagues remember Chien-Pai Han as brilliant statistician, kind and caring friend

Friends and colleagues remember Chien-Pai Han for his gentle nature and his ever-ready willingness to help and encourage others, whether it was students, junior faculty, or anyone else.

Monday, Aug 02, 2021 • Greg Pederson :

Chien Pai Han
Chein-Pai Han

Friends and colleagues remember Chien-Pai Han for his gentle nature and his ever-ready willingness to help and encourage others, whether it was students, junior faculty, or anyone else.

Dr. Han, a professor emeritus at The University of Texas at Arlington, was internationally known for his work in mathematical statistics and was instrumental in building the statistics research program in the Department of Mathematics during a 35-year career at UTA. Dr. Han died September 1, 2020 following a long illness. He was 83 years old.

His fields of specialization in mathematical statistics included statistical inference, multivariate analysis, and sample survey. Over the years he taught courses in a variety of subjects including sampling theory, statistical methods, calculus, business mathematics, and statistical theory for research workers, to name a few.

“Dr. Han was a kind and gentle colleague in the Math Department family,” said Jianzhong Su, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics. “His teaching has influenced many students in their respective careers. He did so much for the department and for his students. He always made the time to help others.”

While his passion was teaching and studying mathematics, Dr. Han also enjoyed time spent with colleagues and friends. He relished playing dominoes and card games, including bridge. Hristo Kojouharov, professor of mathematics, remembers Dr. Han welcoming him to UTA by teaching him how to play Texas 42, the “state domino game of Texas”.

“Chien-Pai was a good friend and colleague,” Kojouharov said. “He was caring, thoughtful, and always willing to help, especially with the annual UTA Calculus Bowl and other departmental events. He was a great bridge game partner during our lunch breaks over the years.”

Doyle Hawkins, who retired as an associate professor of mathematics from UTA in 2016 following a 33-year career, arrived at UTA one year after Dr. Han, in 1983. Over the years Hawkins and Dr. Han published nine papers as co-authors, the first in 1986 and the last in 2011.

Hawkins recalls many Friday afternoon games of bridge in Pickard Hall with Dr. Han as his playing partner, often going against fellow faculty members Harvy Baker, Kojouharov, and the late Roger Kirby and Rangachary Kannan.

“I have many fond memories of a brilliant, kind mentor who had a very unique laugh and a patient spirit,” Hawkins said. “When I first arrived at UTA as a freshly baked Ph.D. graduate, Dr. Han took me under his wing to teach me how to write papers. He did this as a learning step for me and I shall not forget this.”

Hawkins said Dr. Han and his wife, Maria, who were married while Dr. Han was in graduate school in 1965, lent Maria’s wedding dress to many friends over the years for use in their own weddings. He also said the couple were very proud of their two children, Richard and Julie.

Dr. Han was born December 17, 1936, in Hunan, China. Growing up in China during World War II and the Chinese Civil War, he and his family endured many hardships. The family was among approximately two million refugees who fled to the island of Taiwan just before the Communist takeover of China in 1949.

After completing his secondary schooling, Dr. Han attended National Taiwan University in Taipei and earned a B.A. in Economics in 1958. He came to the United States in 1960 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he received an M.A. in Statistics in 1962. He went on to enroll in the Ph.D. program at Harvard University, where he worked as a teaching fellow from 1963-66. He earned a Ph.D. in Statistics in 1967, and then accepted a position as assistant professor in the Department of Statistics at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

During his 15-year tenure at Iowa State, he was named associate professor in 1970 and full professor in 1975. He worked as a visiting professor at Harvard in the summer of 1970 and at Stanford University in 1975-76. In 1982, seeking to escape from the brutal Midwest winters, he applied for a position in the Department of Mathematics at UTA and was hired. Dr. Han, Maria, and their two children moved to Arlington and he began a 35-year career at UTA in the fall of 1982.

When Dr. Han arrived at UTA, the Department of Mathematics had only one other statistician. Together the pair built the department’s statistics program and began to recruit graduate students, while Dr. Han continued his robust research activities.

In the early 1980s, faculty members didn’t yet have office computers, so anyone needing a computer for research had to prepare decks of punched cards, which then had to be taken to the University’s IBM computer in the administration building. The cards were fed into the computer, which used Fortran programming language to complete the jobs. Hawkins recalls that as recently as 2014, Dr. Han still had numerous boxes full of punched cards stacked in his office, a tangible record of his research efforts.

In the summer of 1990, Dr. Han served as a specialist on an international advisory panel for the Chinese University Development Project, which was created to raise the research standards of high-level universities.

He retired from his full-time faculty position in December 2017. The department hosted a retirement reception in his honor in Pickard Hall, during which Dr. Han and Maria cut a cake and received well-wishes from a host of his faculty colleagues and students.

“The thing that I have enjoyed the most is the people,” Dr. Han said at his retirement reception. “I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such good people and to have been able to teach so many wonderful students.”

During his combined 50-year career at UTA and Iowa State, Dr. Han supervised 36 master’s students and 21 doctoral students. He co-authored a book with T.A. Bancroft, Statistical Theory and Inference in Research, which was published in 1981. He authored or co-authored 137 journal publications and in the 1990s co-authored five technical reports.

Dr. Han also presented talks at 83 conferences, symposia and meetings around the world. He served as editor or co-editor of various journals and served on numerous boards and committees related to statistics. He also served on various department and college committees in an administrative capacity.

He was a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, was elected a member of the International Statistical Institute, and was a member of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the International Chinese Statistical Association, as well as Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society, and Mu Sigma Rho, the national honorary society for statistics. He served as president of the International Chinese Statistical Association in 2000 and was a member of its board of directors from 1987-92.

Dr. Han was preceded in death by his father and mother, Chung-Shih and Pei-Wen Han. Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Maria; son, Richard Han; and daughter, Julie Han.

The UTA Department of Mathematics plans to hold a memorial service for Dr. Han at a date to be determined.

-- Written by Greg Pederson