Obituary – Professor Michael Healy

Professor Michael J.R. Healy, former Head of the School’s Medical Statistics Unit (now the Department of Medical Statistics) has died at the age of 92. He was Professor of Medical Statistics at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine from 1977, succeeding Peter Armitage, until his retirement in 1989.

Michael Healy was an extraordinary statistician, who made important contributions to the advance of applications as well as theory, and helped very many medical researchers through his regular statistical clinic at the Hammersmith Hospital. He was Vice President of the Royal Statistical Society several times, and was chair of its Medical and Research Sections. He received their Guy Medal in Silver in 1979 and in Gold in 1999 for his outstanding statistical contributions.

In December 1998, a special issue of Statistics in Medicine was published in honour of his 75th Birthday and more details of his working life and wide statistical contributions can be found in that issue.

Under Michael’s leadership, Medical Statistics at the School went from strength to strength. He also pioneered a number of pedagogic, methodological and technical innovations, not least through his longstanding interest in statistical computing. For example, a price rise for users of the then standard statistical package MINITAB led him to develop his own package NanoSTAT. This became a predecessor of MLwiN, still used in multilevel modelling.

He took particular pride in having been appointed Professor after only two years of formal university education, and without working in a university. This was because those who went to Cambridge during the Second World War could graduate after only two years of study; he did not do a Masters or PhD but supervised PhDs for a number of outstanding students. He was also an examiner for Mike Kenward’s PhD, who retired this year from the School’s GSK Chair in Biostatistics.

After war service in the Admiralty, Michael worked for many years with Frank Yates at Rothamsted, and then at the MRC Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park. In 1951 he spent a year in France. This resulted in a long-lasting friendship with renowned medical statistician Daniel Schwartz, and had statistical consequences; Michael spoke good French and he translated some of Schwartz’ work, most notably a book on Clinical Trials – [Schwartz, D, Flamant, R & Lellouch, J. Clinical Trials (1980)], based on the French version from 1969. This was notable for emphasising the difference between explanatory and pragmatic clinical trials. He also spent a year in 1959-60 with John Tukey at Bell Labs in the USA, also leading to a long and fruitful friendship.

While at Rothamsted, he began a long collaboration with Jim Tanner at the Institute of Child Health, which fostered his interest in auxology, the science of human growth and physiological development.  Michael developed the statistical methodology for the Tanner-Whitehouse bone-age method, which is still the most widely used method worldwide for the assessment of developmental status.  Michael’s collaboration with Harvey Goldstein also started at the Institute when Harvey was recruited to work on longitudinal studies of growth.

Michael had wide interests outside statistics, especially in music, and he was an enthusiastic member of a number of high-class choirs, including the London Symphony Chorus and the BBC Chorus. He will be greatly missed by his many friends, colleagues and former students.

Written by Stephen Evans & John Matthews

2 comments

  1. Norman Noah

    A real gentle-man

  2. Bo Drasar

    Always available to talk remember tea and discussion in his office on the future of teaching at the School.