In memoriam: Ray Myers, emeritus professor with the Department of Statistics
April 30, 2020
Myers was born Oct. 13, 1937, in Charleston, West Virginia. In a September 2010 interview with the journal Quality Engineering, Myers said he originally wanted to be an actor. “My mom wanted me to be an attorney or an actor,” Myers said in the 2010 conversation. “My dad wanted me to be a chemical engineer. I seriously considered all options and decided on chemical engineering at Virginia Tech. I entered in the fall of 1955. Throughout my undergrad, I never heard of the field of statistics. I did okay as an undergrad [in chemical engineering] but as time went by, I was becoming more and more convinced that I would never serve a day as an engineer. Something was missing.”
A random encounter with a professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Statistics changed Myers’ life plans. He would graduate from Virginia Tech with three degrees, a bachelor’s in chemical engineering in 1959, and master’s and doctoral degrees in statistics, in 1961 and 1963, respectively.
During his 44-year long career at Virginia Tech, Myers received numerous teaching and research awards, authored more than six textbooks (one in several languages), directly advised 42 doctoral students, and mentored many more, including his own children, Billy and Julie, who earned degrees from other universities and went on to be statisticians with Procter & Gamble. He won the William E. Wine Award for Teaching Excellence in 1980 and was named Virginia Professor of the Year in 1985.
“Virginia Tech’s Department of Statistics has been long known for excellence in the areas of quality and industrial statistics, and it all starts with Ray Myers,” said Geoff Vining, a professor of statistics, who regularly collaborated with Myers. “He left an incredibly large impact within our profession.”
Myers also received the Shewhart Medal from the American Society for Quality in 1998, the highest award for technical leadership in the field of quality control. Added Vining, “Five Hokies have received this award, including Dr. Myers. However, much more impressive is that he was an important mentor to all of the other four. All of the other four recipients readily acknowledge that they would have never received their Shewhart Medals without Dr. Myers.”
In the 2010 interview with Quality Engineering, carried out by interviewer Angie Patterson, a former Ph.D. student of Myers’ who would go on to work for G.E. Global Research, Myers said, “I hope that any inspiration that was derived from time spent with me can be passed on to others.”
Myers served as associate editor for the Journal of Quality Technology, was an associate editor for the journal Technometrics, was a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, an elected member of International Statistical Institute, a member of the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence, and former director of the Virginia Tech Statistical Consulting Center.
“He was one of the top statisticians and teachers in the country during his tenure at Virginia Tech, but most important he was a wonderful human being,” said Betty Higginbotham, executive assistant and an employee for the Department of Statistics for 46 years. “For we that knew him as a friend and colleague, it was a privilege. He will always be an important part of the history of our department.”
“Ray was the best teacher that I ever had,” said Tim Robinson, a professor in the University of Wyoming’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Robinson said he met his wife, Dawn, through Myers and his wife, Sharon Lee Myers, who is Dawn's aunt. “Ray and Sharon mentored us as a young couple, and he spent a lot of time talking to me about the importance of working hard but maintaining a balance between my faith, family, and work,” Robinson added. “Ray was one of the first people to believe in me as a professional and being a husband and being a dad. I’ve been very blessed – as a husband, happily married for over 20 years; as a father of four children; and professionally as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Society for Quality. Ray was instrumental in all of these facets of my life. He will be greatly missed.”
Douglas Montgomery, a Regents professor at Arizona State University, was also a former student of Myers' and then later a fellow statistician and collaborator. He said, “His teaching style was amazing – such insight, very practical. He really knew what engineers needed to know about statistics. He served on my dissertation committee and was extremely helpful as I completed the research. During the 1970s and 1980s he became a good friend and collaborator. We taught several short courses together.”
Myers and Montgomery would co-author two textbooks, one on response surface methods and the other on generalized linear models. “Ray also was generous with his time with me and my students, serving on the dissertation committees of several of them,” Montgomery added. “[He] was my teacher – the best I ever had – mentor, colleague, and friend.”
Myers was a long-time supporter of Virginia Tech Athletics and the Department of Statistics. In 2008, Myers endowed the Raymond H. Myers Fellowship Award that recognizes graduate students in statistics who excel in the areas of linear models and design of experiments.
Along with his wife, Sharon, Myers was a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society.
According to his obituary, Myers was preceded in death by his parents, William Raymond Myers and Lilian Alice (Holtz) Myers. He is survived by his wife, Sharon; his brother, Richard Myers and wife, Patricia; a son, William Raymond Myers and wife, Mindy; and daughter, Julie Myers Grender and husband, Andy, and several grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date. McCoy Funeral Home of Blacksburg is serving the family. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Raymond H. Myers Fellowship Award at Virginia Tech.