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 Remembering Dr. Lester R. Curtin

Dr. Lester R. Curtin

The National Children’s Study (NCS) is proud to announce the establishment of two endowment funds to honor the memory of Dr. Lester R. Curtin, a prominent health statistician and longtime supporter of the NCS.  Dr. Curtin’s wife, Sally Curtin, was instrumental in establishing and funding these endowments in her husband’s honor.  Dr. Curtin passed away on June 20, 2012. 

Referred to as “Randy” by his friends and colleagues, Dr. Curtin was a recognized expert for his work on childhood growth charts, longitudinal studies, standardized statistical software, vital statistics, and complex health survey design.  He was also a dedicated mentor and teacher for his colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), where he began working in the late 1970s.  Dr. Curtin brought academia to the government with his “open door” policy, allowing anyone and everyone to come ask questions. He had a widespread reputation for being enthusiastic and dedicated to his work, with a quirky sense of humor and the ability to explain complex statistical concepts in a way that made sense.

Dr. Curtin worked with the NCS for over 10 years, sharing his experience from working as lead statistician on the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as other studies on which he had worked.  Specifically, Dr. Curtin worked to help establish the Vanguard Study sampling frame and multi-stage design. According to his colleague and fellow NCS contributor Lewis Berman, Dr. Curtin had a great interest in the NCS and “would review maps, Census demographic data, survey data, and thoroughly enjoyed working on the NCS sample design – even though he never wanted to be known as a design statistician!”  In 2004, he became an official biostatistical consultant for the NCS, working to guide the Study Design Working Group in making recommendations for the type of sample that the NCS should recruit. Ultimately, his analysis and advice led to the process for how people were chosen to be invited to participate in the Vanguard Study; since then, the NCS has built on and refined this process, but Dr. Curtin’s foundation remains.

Dr. Curtin relished his involvement with the NCS because he loved working with other agencies, and felt that the NCS would have a large impact on health. His wife, Sally Curtin, says, “Over the years, he would tell me about various meetings he attended and about the progress of the NCS, all with childlike enthusiasm. He was like a kid in a candy store. He found the issues involved with designing the sample challenging and rewarding as he knew how important this study would be to children’s health.”   Dr. Curtin told his wife that he felt that through his contributions to the NCS he was giving back to the NICHD, which had funded his doctorate in biostatistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1978.

 “Randy was absolutely dedicated to his work on the NCS and was frustrated that his health kept him from being more involved towards the end of his life,” says Mrs. Curtin. “In the spring of 2012, as much as he was able, he was still consulting with others on the sample of the NCS as he knew they were at a critical juncture.” Toward the end of his life, he showed his dedication to the NCS when he told Mrs. Curtin, “If I were healthy, I would work 60 hours a week on this study.”

Dr. Berman also says that “during the last year of Randy’s life he was still very much committed to the study and routinely answered questions and reviewed materials as he was able to do – determining the essence and solution to a problem.

Randy is sorely missed by many of us – for his quiet, unassuming, polite, gentle, witty, and cerebral ways.

About the Endowments

To honor her husband’s work and spirit, Mrs. Curtin chose two organizations to support. Both endowments funds were officially established in July, 2013.

The Lester R. Curtin Award was recently established by the American Statistical Association to help promising young health statisticians get the skills and training they need to make significant contributions in their area of study. Funded through an endowment provided for by Mrs. Curtin, who wished to honor the memory of her husband as a mentor in the field of statistics, the award will provide registration and travel support for young statisticians working or studying in the health field to the ASA Conference on Statistical Practice, which takes place every February. More information on this award can be found at Web Site Policy.

Mrs. Curtin has also worked with the NYU Langone Medical Center to set up an endowment fund to support Dr. Howard Fine’s Neuro-Oncology Laboratory in the NYU Brain Tumor Center.  Dr. Curtin battled a form of brain cancer called gliobastoma multiforme, which has very poor survival.  Dr. Fine was Dr. Curtin’s neuro-oncologist at the NIH, but has since moved on to NYU, where he launched the neuro-oncology lab in September 2012. The goal of his work is to develop novel molecular-targeted therapies for brain tumors in adults and children. Dr. Fine’s approach is to collaborate with research scientists and clinical investigators to translate discoveries made in the lab into beneficial treatments for brain tumor patients. Ms. Curtin chose to help fund Dr. Fine’s lab based on its potential to result in novel new brain tumor treatments, in the hopes that current and future patients will have brighter futures. For more information, please visit: Web Site Policy.