In Memoriam: David Draper

David Draper looks at a camera, sitting behind a computer and wearing a gray fedora.
David Draper.
David Draper, professor of statistics, passed away on May 8, 2024. He died peacefully among friends and family after a short hospitalization. The immediate cause was aspiration pneumonia.

An expert in methodological developments in Bayesian statistics, Draper was a beloved, enthusiastic, and dedicated teacher who taught generations of statistics students since joining the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering in 2001. He was known for the generosity and respect he offered his students, as well as his characteristic gray fedora, which he was rarely seen without.

“I have known David since he joined UC Santa Cruz in 2001; he was a giant in his field with a brilliant mind and encyclopedic knowledge of many different areas,” said Phokion Kolaitis,  Distinguished Professor Emeritus. “Every time I talked to him, I benefited from his wisdom and insights. His loss creates a void that cannot be filled.”

“David Draper was a great man, and a great brother — always kind and thoughtful to others, and very generous. Over the years, we had a lot of excellent times together. I will miss him dearly, as well as everyone else he had contact with in his life,” said John Draper, David’s brother. 

Born in Omaha, Nebraska and raised in Temple Hills, Maryland, David graduated Phi Beta
Kappa from University of North Carolina. He was a passionate lifelong fan of Tarheels basketball, especially of Dean Smith. After working for IBM for a few years David completed his doctorate in Statistics at UC Berkeley in 1981. He taught award-winning courses and led the Statistical Consulting Service at University of Chicago, then returned to California to join RAND as well as the faculty of RAND Graduate School where, again, his classes consistently drew accolades. At RAND from 1986-1993 David worked almost exclusively in health policy research, most notably with Robert Brook, Emmett Keeler, Katherine Kahn, and Bob Bell. He then moved to the University of Bath in England, becoming a full professor there. David taught and conducted both methodological and applied research at Bath until being recruited to UCSC. He also served as a visiting professor at the University of Washington, UCLA, and the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. 

At UCSC, Draper served as the founding chair of the Applied Mathematics and Statistics Department for six years. In 2019, he was appointed faculty director of UCSC Undergraduate Honors programs. He was an active teaching professor and was teaching STAT17: Statistical Methods for Business and Economics this quarter until his passing. His research involved methodological developments in Bayesian statistics, with particular emphasis on hierarchical modeling, Bayesian nonparametric methods, model specification and model uncertainty, quality assessment, risk assessment, with statistical applications in the environmental, medical, and social sciences.

Beyond his many contributions to the field of Bayesian statistics, Draper will be remembered for the deep impact he had on students throughout his many years as a professor. Draper received recognition for that impact when he received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007 and again recently in 2022. Nominated by students, the award recognizes instructors who have demonstrated exemplary and inspiring teaching.

“It was a rare day that I would pass through Jack’s Lounge and not see David sitting in front of a rapt group of students receiving extra help in understanding the foundations of statistical methods,” said Alexander Wolf, Dean of Baskin Engineering.

In social media posts, students note admiring Draper’s story-telling style of conveying complex
topics effectively, and especially his generosity of spirit. He approached each student as an individual worthy of enthusiasm and respect. In 2022, a student said the following about Draper’s outstanding teaching:

“I loved how Professor Draper was able to connect concepts that were very abstract to real world happenings. If there was something in the news that someone found that mentioned statistics or something we had gone over, he would spend at lengths engaging with the topic. He was always available to answer questions and went far beyond what any other teacher I have had in terms of helping students. He made sure to cover every element in tests and quizzes. During a time of Zoom university burnout, he kept me engaged and going to watch his lectures. You can see his passion in his subject and his desire for us as students to succeed.”

Draper was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the Royal Statistical Society, and a former president of the International Society for Bayesian Analysis. He was the author or co-author on more than 200 contributions to the research literature, which together have been cited more than 20,000 times. 

David is survived by his brother John Draper and sister Marilyn Korintus in Phoenix, Arizona.

For support with this difficult news, UC Santa Cruz students can reach out either to Counseling and Psychological Services or Slug Support. For faculty and staff, the Employee Assistance Program offers counseling and other support.