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Updated 10:00 AM July 13, 2009

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Irene Hess

Irene Hess, 98, a survey statistician who helped set standards for excellence at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and educated generations of graduate students in the conduct of scientific surveys, died July 5 in Ann Arbor of a cerebral hemorrhage.
(Photo courtesy Hess family)

"Irene Hess was one of the pioneers at ISR," says ISR Director James Jackson. "She helped to define its core essence in conducting high quality sampling and surveys. Her contributions over so many decades cannot be overestimated in terms of research, training of new generations of scientists and friendships. She will be sorely missed."

Although she officially retired in 1981, Hess remained active professionally through her late 90s, walking to work at the Survey Research Center from the campus apartment she had lived in since 1954, when she began at ISR.

Born Aug. 27, 1910, in Muhlenberg County, Ky, Hess received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Indiana University in 1931 and taught math until 1942. She learned of a new field of statistics from an article in the Reader's Digest, and was attracted to it as a way to advance her career.

She studied statistics during the summer at U-M, joined the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1941, and then the U.S. Census Bureau. At Census she implemented the new ideas of probability sampling into demographic and economic surveys. In 1954 she joined the ISR Survey Research Center, as assistant director of the Sampling Section, and later became director.

Hess communicated the highest standards of excellence in statistical practice by her example, and her teaching affected scores of the leading sampling statisticians in the world.

"She taught me what I know about rigorous application of scientific sampling and the highest standards of survey research," says Robert Groves, former director of the Survey Research Center and current nominee as director of the U.S. Census Bureau. "She served as a role model for young statisticians of how to be a professional and how to apply practical rules to implement complicated research designs."

"Irene was responsible for teaching several generations of sampling statisticians how to translate theory into practice," says Martin Frankel, professor of statistics and computer information systems at Baruch College, City University of New York.

During her career, Hess published numerous articles, many co-authored with ISR founder Leslie Kish. After her official retirement, she published two monographs, "Sampling for Social Research Surveys 1947-1980" (in 1985) and "Controlled Selection Continued" with Steven Heeringa (in 2002). Her latest publication, "The Practice of Survey Research at the Survey Research Center," was completed in the fall of 2007. Hess was a member of the American Statistical Association and other prominent professional organizations.

She is survived by numerous maternal and paternal cousins, including Maryann Jenkins of Killen, Ala.; Frederick Getz of Vernon Hills, Ill.; Jerome Getz (Dagmar) of St. Paul, Minn.; Norman Getz of Vestal, N.Y.; Minnie Hess Busch of Ventura, Iowa; Marjorie Hess Tisdall of Cerritos, Calif.; and Madelyn Hess Davidson of Gardena, Calif.

A memorial service is being planned in Ann Arbor. For more information, contact ISR Director of Development Patrick Shields at

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