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C R Rao: Ballari-born genius who chose statistics as ‘last resort’

Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao was born on September 10, 1920, in a Telugu-speaking family to C D Naidu, a police inspector, and A Laxmikantamma, a homemaker.
Last Updated : 23 August 2023, 20:54 IST

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Prof C R Rao, the Ballari-born doyen of statistics who broke new ground in the field and was widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest, passed away in the US on Wednesday. He was three weeks away from his 103rd birthday.

Last month, Prof Rao received the International Prize in Statistics, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the field.

Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao was born on September 10, 1920, in a Telugu-speaking family to C D Naidu, a police inspector, and A Laxmikantamma, a homemaker, in Huvina Hadagali, in the undivided Ballari district in Madras Presidency. He was the eighth of 10 children.

His father’s job in the police meant the family changed places every few years. Rao did his schooling at various places and obtained a BA (Honors) in Mathematics from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.

In Rao’s own words, he chose statistics as the last resort.

In 1940, just when World War II was raging, he took a train to Kolkata in the hope of finding a job in the military but was rejected because he was deemed too young.

During this time, he happened to visit the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, and applied for a one-year training programme in statistics. He was promptly enrolled, and thus began a journey of over eight decades dedicated to statistics.

Prof Rao worked at the institute for the next 40 years, turning it into India’s premier institute for statistics. He retired as its director in 1978.

But retirement didn’t mean relaxation for him. He moved to the US and joined the University of Pittsburg as a faculty member. In 1988, he joined Pennsylvania State University and retired as Eberly Professor Emeritus in the Statistics Department in 2001, the same year India honoured him with a Padma Bhushan. 

He received over 40 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, won numerous prizes and was a member of several scientific academies. 

He was also president of the International Statistical Institute and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

Some of Prof Rao’s influential works are the Cramer-Rao inequality, the Rao-Blackwell theorem, Rao’s score test and Rao’s orthogonal arrays.

In a 2003 interview, Rao credited his mother with instilling discipline in him and his father for his scholastic achievements. 

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah expressed condolences at Prof Rao’s passing and called it “an irreparable loss”.

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Published 23 August 2023, 20:54 IST

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