By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun
6:46 PM EDT, September 22, 2013
Dr. Alan Ross, a longtime faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University whose love of numbers fed his career and also an enjoyment of baseball, died Sept. 7 at Roland Park Place. He was 87.
He was born in Oxford, Ohio, to E.C and Madeliene Ross, and raised in both Oxford and Hamilton, Ohio, where his extended family lived. His father was an English professor at Miami University. Family members say as a youngster, Dr. Ross showed a predilection for learning, winning several state mathematics awards in school.
In 1944, during World War II, he enlisted with the 42nd Infantry Division at Atterbury, Ind., and by January was deployed to Europe. He later served in Vienna, Austria, as a military policeman until his unit was demobilized in June 1946.
Following his discharge, Dr. Ross enrolled at Brown University, where he graduated in 1950 cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. It was also at Brown that Dr. Ross met his wife, Barbara Mink. The two married shortly after graduation.
Dr. Ross earned a master's degree in statistics from Iowa State in 1952, and also achieved a doctorate from that school in 1960. While working on his doctorate, he served as a research associate at Iowa State from 1952 to 1954, and also at the University of Pittsburgh from 1954 to 1956.
He was an assistant professor of medical statistics at the University of Kentucky Medical Center from 1956 to 1961. He was an associate professor there until 1964.
In 1964, Dr. Ross joined the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University as an associate professor of biostatistics in what was then the School of Hygiene and Public Health. Within two years, he was acting chairman of the biostatistics department, and became chairman in 1967, serving until 1981.
He served in other capacities as well — as a professor of statistics for the university from 1966, associate professor of public health administration from 1965 to 1967, professor in the department of medical care & hospitals from 1967 to 1972, and professor of biostatistics from 1967 — until taking emeritus status in 1990.
"He was a man of that generation, where his work was his life," said his daughter, Catharine Norcross of Redding, Calif.
Dr. Ross was a visiting professor in biostatistics at Yale in 1965 and 1966, and also at the University of Pittsburgh in 1968, the University of Washington in 1970 and at the University of California, Berkeley in 1972.
During his career, he worked as chief biostatistical consultant to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Aviation Medicine. He also advised the World Health Organization for its International Collaborative Study of Medical Care Utilization. In that effort, he designed and analyzed population surveys, including the census of Afghanistan, from 1971 to 1975.
His work even led him to analyze the efficiency of narcotic drug treatments and mental health issues among the homeless population.
"He liked to play with numbers. He paid attention to the cycles of things," Mrs. Norcross said. "The way his mind worked and the things he could do was beyond most of us."
He completed sabbatical assignments around the world, and was a fellow of the American Statistical Association and a member of the International Biometric Society and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi and Delta Omega.
In leisure time, Dr. Ross loved opera, symphony and jazz. During family gatherings in Hamilton, he sang barbershop harmonies with his cousins.
He and his wife regularly attended performances at Lyric Opera House, according to Mrs. Norcross.
"He was really pretty well-rounded in his love of classical music," she said. "During the war, he traded his rations to go to the opera in Vienna. His family was very, very musical. … Music was very important to him."
Dr. Ross was also a "tremendous baseball fan," according to his daughter.
"We often went to baseball games as a kid," Mrs. Norcross recalled. "He would buy the programs and I would watch him draw the box scores beautifully. He loved to do the box scores. He would intently pay attention to the game. But his box scores were beautiful. It looked like a work of art. And he didn't miss a beat."
He also was an avid bird watcher. He and his wife shared in this activity. The two also enjoyed traveling in the United States and internationally.
"They were tremendous bird watchers," Mrs. Norcross said. "We would be driving along anywhere and they would be on the lookout. They got very involved with bird watching down on the Jersey shore."
Mrs. Norcross recalled trips her parents would take to places as far away as Australia just to watch birds.
"They once made a special trip to Kansas to see a specific type of crane that would fly through on its flight pattern," she said. "It was a really important part of their daily life."
Dr. Ross' wife died in December 2008. In addition to his daughter, Dr. Ross is survived by two other children: Thomas Ross of Silver Spring, and James Ross of Nyack, N.J., and four grandchildren.
Dr. Ross will be cremated. A memorial service will be planned for later this fall.
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