John Haigh obituary

Other lives: Expert on probability who lectured at Sussex University for more than 50 years

My friend John Haigh, who has died aged 79, was a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Sussex whose speciality was probability and statistics. Aside from his teaching at Sussex for 50 years, he wrote five books on his expert field, the first of which, Taking Chances: Winning With Probability (2005), explained probability to lay people, and sold very well.

John was born in Skelmanthorpe, a village near Huddersfield, to Harry Haigh and Rhoda Firth, both millworkers. His father died when he was 11, and as a result he was on free school meals during his time at Penistone grammar school, from where in 1960 he won a scholarship to study mathematics at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was a soccer blue. He then moved to Caius College, Cambridge, to do research in probability under the supervision of David Kendall and John Kingman.

From 1966 until his retirement in 2019, John worked as a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Sussex, retiring as reader in mathematics and including a spell as chairman of the maths department. He published 60 research and expository articles, mostly within the field of applied probability, and his most cited paper is a joint one with the biologist John Maynard Smith on the hitch-hiking effect of a favourable gene.

Being an expert on probability, after the UK national lottery began in 1994, he was often asked for comments by the media, although as a lapsed Methodist he never bought a lottery ticket himself.

John also held visiting appointments at the universities of Melbourne (Australia), Stanford (US) and Guelph (Canada), was a lecturer for the Royal Statistical Society, and delivered schools lectures for the London Mathematical Society. After his first book he also wrote Probability: A Very Short Introduction (2012), two text books, and, with Rob Eastaway, The Hidden Mathematics of Sport (2011).

Throughout his life John maintained a devotion to Yorkshire cricket and to Huddersfield Town football club, and he enjoyed playing a variety of card games. During the 70s he helped with a weekly lunch club for elderly people.

He met his wife, Kay (nee Raspin), on holiday in Crete in 1976; they married a year later and had two children, Daniel and Adam. Daniel died in 2007; he is survived by Kay and Adam and his granddaughter, Isabella.

Martin Dunwoody

The GuardianTramp

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