Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Very Personal Thank You

Just two words, but from the heart. It being Remembrance Day, I'm led to reflect on the contributions and sacrifices that my father, Albert Thomas Giles made for me. An infantryman in the British army (three times wounded) in World War II he also sacrificed a great deal for the education of his children.
Inadvertently, Bert was also influential in my becoming an econometrician.

In 1969, I was completing the final year of an undergraduate degree, at the University of Canterbury, in which I double-majored in statistics and pure mathematics. That October, my father drew my attention to an item in the newspaper about the awarding of the first Nobel Prize in Economics to the econometricians Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch.
As I recall, he made some comment to the effect that this "econometrics thing" might be an interesting way to get a job where I could use my training in mathematics and statistics. Exams were looming, and I put the idea to one side.
As luck would have it, just after final exams were over, I happened to come across a small typed announcement on a notice-board in the (almost deserted) Student Union building on our campus. A few weeks old by then, it was an invitation to students graduating in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, and the like, to consider entering the Masters program in economics.
On an impulse, I took advantage of one of the (free!) telephones in the SU building to call the head of the Economics Department - another "Bert" - Albert Dempster Brownlie.
The following academic year, along with a surprisingly large group of like-minded fellow students, I took the transition program in the economics department -  a step called the "knight's move", in reference to the game of chess.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, I found that I had something of a comparative advantage in econometrics.
However, if it hadn't been for Bert Giles' comment to me in 1969, I doubt if the notice posted by Bert Brownlie would have meant anything to me.
I regret to say that, until now, I've neglected to say "thank you" to either of the Berts.
And a very special thank you to Bert Giles, who passed away at the age of 91 in June of this year, for all that you sacrificed.
© 2012, David E. Giles

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