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NEWS29 November 2017

Obituary: Paul Harris

News People UK

UK – Paul Harris, former chief statistician at NOP and statistical consultant, died on 19th November 2017, aged 81. By Corrine Moy.

Paul began his career in market research in 1962, as a research executive at the Electricity Council. In 1966, he joined NOP (then National Opinion Polls) as chief statistician. And so began a long and illustrious career with one of the major agencies of the 20th century.

As John Barter, former chairman of NOP recalls: “During this time, NOP expanded to become one of the largest research groups in the UK and Paul’s unit played a vital part in this success. The early years were exciting and challenging times. The research industry was growing, and new problems were always waiting to be solved, with no precedent for guidance.

“There was a strong team spirit in the company and no lack of innovative ideas, but Paul was always there to ensure that projects were technically strong and ethically sound. He was greatly respected and liked by all. His reputation was equally high throughout the industry. Paul was prominent among the many MRS members who gave freely of their time to organise and contribute to courses and lectures and he came to be known and respected for this work. Respect and liking do not always go hand in hand. In Paul they most definitely did.”

In 1997, after 30 years of exemplary service to NOP, Paul left to set up his own consultancy – and to spend more time with his beloved wife, Linda. He spent the next 15 years or so supporting smaller agencies, bringing the same level of technical expertise and sagacity to their pursuits.

In addition to his day job, Paul made a huge contribution to the research industry. He was a member of the MRS for 51 years, joining in 1966. He served on many MRS committees, including a spell on the MRS Council in the 1980s. He co-authored books on sampling and statistics for researchers, and contributed to several ESOMAR publications.

He was heavily involved in MRS training courses, and is especially well-remembered by a huge number of researchers for his contributions to MRS winter and summer schools – and not only for his passionate and illuminating teaching. He was always a stalwart of the late-night bar sessions – long outlasting many younger trainees.

Paul was also responsible for many research innovations. He published seminal papers in the IJMR and for ESOMAR. In 1979 he was awarded the MRS Silver Medal for a paper on the benefits of cluster sampling in probability sampling. His work with Ken Baker on the application of data fusion to research in the late ‘80s was ground-breaking; they were awarded the MRS Award for Innovation in Research Methodology. In 1996 he was awarded the ultimate accolade of the MRS Gold Medal – for exceptional services to the MRS and the wider industry.

A titan of the research industry, Paul was a central part of the development of research as we now know it. But far more than this, he was an exceptional man in the human sense. Stories abound of how kind he was, what care he took to explain the complexities of his subject to researchers, but also what great fun he was.

He was a bon vivant, deriving huge enjoyment from the company of others, as well as from good food and wine. He was a passionate real ale drinker. But most of all he loved jazz and visited the New Orleans Festival every year, for as long as anyone can remember.

The flood of tributes that have been received since Paul’s death are testament to the esteem in which he is held, and the fondness people felt for him.

David Smith says: “My fondest memories of Paul were around his outstanding contribution to training young people at various MRS training events. As a world class sampling expert, he was also able to explain everything with clarity in a simple and easy to follow way. But his contribution did not stop there – the youngsters also benefited from Paul’s kindness, integrity and gentle humour.

“They came away from spending time with Paul with a sense of what professionalism and authenticity were all about. Paul was a fantastic ambassador for our industry.”

John Samuels says: “Paul was by far the best of his generation at explaining statistics to young researchers in ways they could readily understand. He must have helped hundreds of people overcome their fear and learn to use statistics in legitimate ways. He was always a man of the highest integrity, and good fun to have a giggle with in the bar or at the back of the room when others were giving their paper! He has left a great legacy.”

Linda Henshall says: “He was such a good friend to me with a great sense of humour. How he loved his holidays to New Orleans and his jazz, he was always fun to be with.”

Frank Macey says: “Paul was a kind and generous man who had been a close friend for some 50 years. As a statistician he was rightly regarded with distinction. We worked together on dozens of important studies in which his statistical and analytical role was a vital part. Paul was a wonderful gentleman, a great friend – and I am very sad he is no longer with us.”

Bill Blyth says: “I always found Paul immensely kind and he was very helpful to me. Technically he was the best of his generation and as a teacher he was outstanding. I never could say what he was like at night because he always seemed to last much longer than me.”

Barbara Lee says: “A wonderful friend and colleague, he was always there with the right answer, he will be sadly missed.“

Nick Moon says: “When we went to Bhopal together to run the survey following the Union Carbide gas leak in the city. Paul was the only one out of the whole team out there – NOP, insurers and loss adjusters – who didn't get dysentery. His explanation was that after drinking two pints of Bass every lunchtime for 20 years his stomach could cope with anything.”

Richard Jameson says: “I remember him as one of the real gentlemen of NOP. Last time I had a drink with him was at an MRS conference about 10 years ago...he still had a twinkle in his eye and was full of war stories.”

Paul recruited me into the research industry in the 90s. I was hugely fortunate to have him as my mentor. In many ways, he taught me all I needed to know about applying statistics to the research world. He was astoundingly knowledgeable, but also a wonderful, kind, fun person to be around. I feel very lucky to have benefited from his tutelage.

He will be sorely missed, but the industry is a far better place for having him devote his career to it.

His funeral will be held on Monday 4th December at 12.40pm, at the Barham Crematorium, Barham, Canterbury, CT4 6QU. A reception will be held afterwards at The Royal Hotel, Beach Street, Deal, CT14 6JD.

If you intend to attend, please inform corrine.moy@gfk.com. This will enable us to plan catering.

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