The College is saddened to announce the death of Emeritus Fellow of Churchill, Professor Peter Whittle, on 10 August, aged 94.
Raised in Wellington, New Zealand, Peter received both a Bachelors and Masters of Science with first class honours from the University of New Zealand. In 1950, he moved to Uppsala University in Sweden to study under the renowned econometrician and statistician Herman Wold. His thesis on time series was published in 1951, becoming the first of a dozen books he would eventually author. Upon receiving his PhD, Peter remained in Uppsala with the university’s Statistics Institute before returning to New Zealand in 1953.
For six years, Peter worked at the Applied Mathematics Laboratory of New Zealand’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. He then accepted a lectureship at Cambridge University and later joined the University of Manchester as the Chair of Mathematical Statistics. In 1967, he was invited to serve as the first Churchill Professor of Mathematics for Operational Research at Cambridge, a position that he held for nearly three decades until his retirement in 1994.
Peter was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1978, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1981. In 1986, he was jointly awarded the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize for the best publication in operations research and the management sciences. His book, Systems in Stochastic Equilibrium (1986), was celebrated as “an eloquent penetration into the underlying structure of a wide class of stochastic systems.” The Royal Society awarded him their Sylvester Medal in 1994 in recognition of his “major distinctive contributions to time series analysis, to optimisation theory, and to a wide range of topics in applied probability theory and the mathematics of operational research”.
In 1997, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) awarded him the John von Neumann Theory Prize. Peter was recognised for the prominent role he played in developing the theory of stochastic network processes, self-organising systems, and the foundations of probability. In 2002, he was elected into the inaugural class of INFORMS fellows.
Frank Kelly, Professor of the Mathematics of Systems at the Statistical Laboratory, said “Peter will be remembered as an outstanding pioneer across the fields of probability, statistics and optimisation. He wrote a large number of important papers, but it is in his books that one can best appreciate the broad sweep of his achievements and the simplicity, unity and generality of his approach.”
Peter’s wife Käthe died in 2020. He is survived by his children Martin, Lorna, Miles, Gregory, Jennifer and Elsie, seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter.