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NEI Mourns Statistician Marvin Podgor

By Linda Huss

Dr. Marvin J. Podgor, 47, an NEI employee for 25 years, died Oct. 24, 1998, at his home in Potomac, Md. He had kidney cancer.

He was born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and obtained a B.A. degree in mathematics from the University of Rochester in 1973. That same year, Podgor joined NEI's Division of Biometry and Epidemiology as a statistician. He also spent the next several years studying at George Washington University and earned a Ph.D. in statistics in 1992.

Dr. Marvin J. Podgor

Dr. Roy Milton, Podgor's former NEI supervisor, said, "Marvin was a colleague and friend and almost like a son, except sons can give one a few gray hairs and in 22 years Marvin never did. My approach to supervision was laissez-faire, and it worked perfectly with Marvin. I consider hiring him to be among my personal and professional accomplishments at NEI."

In 1995, Podgor was named chief of NEI's statistical methods and analysis section. One of his major achievements was a collaborative project with colleague and mentor Dr. Joseph Gastwirth of George Washington University. In many scientific settings there are several plausible models that might generate the observed data. Gastwirth and Podgor developed a method to combine the procedures appropriate to each model into a single one that had high efficiency for retrieving data from any of the plausible models. The concepts apply to a variety of biomedical applications, e.g., survival analysis and dose-response studies. Their methodology has been incorporated into the highly regarded statistical package Stat-Xact. Podgor was invited to present their approach at the 1998 spring meeting of the Biometric Society, and a summary of their work appears in the 1998 Encyclopedia of Biostatistics.

"On the personal side I can only say that Marvin was one of the best students I have ever had," said Gastwirth. "Not only was he intelligent, he was unusually careful and reliable. Over the years I had gotten to know him and his family and he was a wonderful father in addition to being a fine statistical scientist."

Podgor's other research interests included the Framingham Eye Study and the Framingham Offspring Eye Study. In the course of analyzing data from these studies, he developed novel approaches to solving difficult statistical problems. One notable instance was his application of generalized estimating equations to examine familial aggregation of ocular pathology and the association of types of lens opacities between and within eyes of individuals. Dr. George Reed, chief of NEI's Biometry Branch, said, "I am grateful for the brief time that he and I were colleagues. He had seen and solved many of the difficulties that I was to encounter in vision research, and he made my job much easier. As a statistician and a friend, he is widely missed."

Podgor received NEI Director's Awards in 1991 and 1996.

"Marvin was always quick to make available his statistical expertise -- especially to the scientists in the intramural program of the National Eye Institute," recalled NEI director Dr. Carl Kupfer. "He did this willingly and with enthusiasm. His collaborations were a major factor in strengthening the statistical validity of our publications."

In his 25-year career, Podgor authored and coauthored 56 publications. He was associate editor of the American Journal of Epidemiology from 1992 to 1998. He was a member of the American Statistical Association, the International Biometric Society and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

Apart from his career, Podgor's interests were his family. He leaves his wife of 23 years, Debbie Podgor; a 20-year-old daughter, Melinda; and a 17-year-old son, David. He loved watching baseball games and playing catch with the neighborhood kids. He coached his children's soccer teams for many years, and took a great interest in children's educational needs. In addition, he loved growing his herb garden.

Milton points out, "I think good people just happen, and I was fortunate to have Marvin happen to me. We shall miss his quiet wit, his remarkable repertoire of trivia, and above all his indomitable good spirits which prevailed to the end."

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