Friday, June 3, 2011

Tribute to a Probabilist and an Actor

I was strolling in the cyber space just to get some inputs for our budding joint venture, when I stumbled upon the following news on the website of Bernoulli Society – “Prof. Patrick Billingsley passed away on April 22, 2011.” This was a single line, but it couldn’t leave me, as Billingsley occupies a significant place in my daily research work. Impulsively, I googled his name to get a glimpse of his life.  Unsurprisingly, the first result was from Amazon, as he has touched lives of many like me with his fundamental books on advanced probability theory.  The second result was from IMDb about some actor Pat Billingsley. I overlooked it as a mere coincidence, thinking - even the great “Billingsley” is not unique …Google has a name-alike for him too. So to get a relevant and reliable account of his life I started hunting for his Wikipedia entry, and to my surprise, the very first line was – “Patrick Billingsley was an American mathematician and stage and screen actor, noted for his books in advanced probability theory and statistics.”  I was rendered speechless. I couldn’t imagine that a person who wrote something so technical can be an actor as well…

This is not the first time that I am shocked after hearing something about Billingsley.  The first startling revelation was the fact that he is Feller’s student. Knowing that Feller is pretty sympathetic towards his readers, it’s very hard to believe that his student wrote such books. But considering his intellect, the gaps that he leaves for his readers to fill in must be really trivial for him.

The Princeton graduate was an accomplished actor with around 20 plays, 8 movies and 9 television shows to his credit. He had earned a black belt in judo. Besides occupying many important academic positions, he served on the athletic board of University of Chicago and even helped run the football scoreboard.  In words of his daughter Marty Billingsley - “A true Renaissance man, he also painted, did woodworking, read Beowulf in the original Old English. His interest in folk music led him to study the collection of ballads put together by Francis James Child in the late 19th century, which he sang as lullabies to his five children. Echoes of those ballads can be found in his daughter Franny Billingsley's young adult novels.”  (Source : UChicago News)

When asked about his equal interest in academics and acting, Billingsley replied  – “Teaching has a little bit of show biz. When you teach, you perform in front of an audience. That’s much like acting. As a teacher you’re used to being on stage”.

In short, if you are a genius, it doesn’t matter, which career path you have chosen. You can make a mark, in any field you like….


  1. Amazing information and motivating too....

  2. Even I remember seeing Pat Billingsley and his IMDb profile in search results. But back then I never realised..
    May his soul rest in peace.. He will always be alive in mind of probabilists through his books, which are true expositories of mathematics behind statistics.

  3. completely agree with Richa. I didn't know about him much. Well written and well said!

  4. You people are right... It's really motivating...
    (motivates for being an accomplished blogger atleast...;))

  5. Ya truely a great person, a perfect allrounder!!!!

  6. Sad .....that we lost him. Nice article Akanksha!