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Dr John Bithell (1939–2020)

It is with great regret that I report the death of our Emeritus Fellow, Dr John Bithell, who passed away on 7 March, aged 80.

Born in Surrey but raised in Cheshire, John attended St Edward’s School, Oxford, as a boarder, before coming up to Pembroke College to read Mathematics in 1958. As the only student at Pembroke then reading that subject, he was taught by Dr Charles Caine, Lecturer (1957–1958), then Fellow and Tutor in Mathematics (1958–1992), at St Peter's. Graduation in 1961 was followed by the decision to take the Graduate Certificate in Statistics, awarded in 1962, with plans to study for the Graduate Diploma interrupted by a serious car accident in April 1963, the result of which was to confine John to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

After two years of rehabilitation, during which John continued to work, he was appointed as a Research Officer at the Nuffield Foundation. Funding from the Foundation allowed John to have access to one of the few computers then operational within Oxford, which underpinned his work within what was one of the first units dedicated to exploring applications on operational research to the National Health Service, specifically in areas such as the scheduling of waiting lists and distribution of blood supplies. His Nuffield fellowship was followed by a Research Fellowship within Oxford Hospitals, during which time John also conducted the research for his D.Phil, awarded in 1969, for which he was supervised by Francis Marriott (1926–2012), a Cambridge mathematician and physiologist. His career then took him to the Childhood Cancer Research Group, where he worked for six years as a Research Officer under Professor Alice Stewart (1906–2002).  

In 1976, he was appointed Tutor and Fellow in Biomathematics and Statistics at St Peter’s, a post he held until his retirement in 2004. John’s time at St Peter’s was notable for his dedication to teaching, which he undertook not just for the School of Mathematics, and for his commitment to the life of the college, in which he held the offices of Tutor for Graduates, Senior Tutor and Vice-Master. In retirement, he continued to be an active member of both the college and his department, where he continued to pursue his research on statistical methods in epidemiology, the applications of stochastic processes in biology and medicine, and childhood cancer, among other things. 

We send condolences to his wife, Joy, and to all his family.

The flag will be flying at half-mast.

Professor Judith Buchanan
Master, St Peter's College

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Dr John Bithell