In Memoriam Willem van Zwet (1934-2020)

Prof. Willem van Zwet from Leiden University was advisor to the Mathematisch Centrum (now called CWI) from 1965-1984, chair of CWI’s Science Committee and Member of the Board. Throughout his career, Van Zwet played a key role in academic mathematical statistics in the Netherlands.

Publication date
6 Jul 2020

Sadly, Prof. Willem van Zwet (86) passed away on 2 July. From 1965-1984 he was advisor to the Mathematisch Centrum (MC), currently called CWI, after being a researcher there from 1961-1964. Van Zwet was also the chair of CWI’s Science Committee (1983-1990) and a Member of the Board (1993-1996). Other positions of Van Zwet include Professor of Statistics in Leiden and scientific director of EURANDOM. Throughout his career, Van Zwet played a key role in academic mathematical statistics in the Netherlands.

Historian Gerard Alberts (UvA) offers a long term perspective: "Willem van Zwet was pre-eminently the one who fulfilled David van Dantzig's dream of turning  mathematical statistics, and more generally stochastics, into a respectable branch of academic mathematics”. Richard Gill (Emeritus Professor Mathematical Statistics at Leiden University) remembers: “He was an excellent teacher and supported his students through thick and thin, as did Kobus Oosterhoff, the other advisor of the Mathematical Statistics group of Professor Hemelrijk".

Below a copy of the In Memoriam from Leiden University (reproduced with permission).


In Memoriam W.R. van Zwet

Willem van Zwet (1934) came to Leiden University in 1965 and had been Professor of Statistics at the Mathematical Institute from 1968 until his retirement in 1999. Van Zwet was both a renowned scientist and a strong manager. His work on asymptotic developments and higher-order efficiency of non-parametric statistics is well known, but he has also worked on a wide range of topics, including plant cell statistics and spatial stochastic processes.

Van Zwet used his management skills in Leiden as a dean, as chairman of the board of the National Herbarium (Rijksherbarium), chairman of the scientific committee of the Leiden University Fund (Leids Universiteits Fonds), but also nationally, for example as an advisor to the Mathematisch Cenrum (Mathematical Center, currently CWI), as a director and co-founder of the Thomas Stieltjes Institute and EURANDOM, and as initiator of the famous Stochastics Meetings Lunteren, which are still continuing today.

Internationally, Willem was president of all three major professional organizations in statistics (IMS, Bernoulli Society, and ISI), editor-in-chief of two of the major journals, and (board) member of the National Institute for Statistical Sciences in North Carolina. From 1967-1993, Willem was a frequent visiting scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, and from 1990-1998 he was a Willem Newman professor at Chapel Hill.

In addition to these and other close ties with the US, Willem also maintained intensive contacts with statisticians in Eastern Europe and played an important role in the exchange between researchers on the two sides of the then `Iron Curtain'. For his work, Willem received numerous prizes and honours, including an honorary doctorate from Charles University in Prague.

At some point in his career, Willem was the scientific father of most statisticians in the Netherlands. His career therefore coincides with a period of major changes in statistics, but also in the world of science in general.