Michael Hills

Michael Hills

Michael worked at LSHTM, first between 1962 and 1971, and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1985 to 1996, when he retired. In between, he worked at the Natural History Museum, as Head of Biometrics and Computing, and then at the Open University. Many of those who met him during his second spell at our School, students as well as (junior and senior) staff, were fundamentally shaped by attending his lectures, and from teaching and collaborating with him.

Michael was a wonderful teacher – able to reduce statistical and methodological concepts to their essence, and then to communicate them with exceptional clarity. He often mentioned his years as a school maths teacher as the source for his very unique style. He used to say that a lecture should be like a Chinese meal: you always leave the table feeling hungry for more. Indeed his book with David Clayton (Statistical Models in Epidemiology, OUP, 1993), is a typical example of this. Every line there is succinct and to the point, and yet it encourages you to think more deeply and find out more about where the concepts take one.

The book with David Clayton is a classic reference for epidemiologists, especially in Europe. Like no other textbook before it offered an accessible but yet formal link between statistical modelling and estimation and the goals of epidemiological research. It is not surprising, therefore, that Michael’s contribution to LSHTM’s teaching programme lives on today in much of the teaching in the Statistical Methods in Epidemiology module and in the Advanced Course in Epidemiological Analysis short course.

The same must be said for the European Educational Programme in Epidemiology, held in Florence every summer, where he taught from 1989 till only a few years ago. There, he influenced scores of young researchers from across Europe and beyond, who- year after year- would surround him at every break with questions on the likelihood principle and who would give him the warmest farewells at the end of the course. It has to be said that there were also other advantages that brought Michael to teach in Florence, as the photo above testifies…

Michael was one of the most self-effacing and modest people one could imagine. This went along with a rigorous and deep intellectual integrity. Michael avoided all pomp and pretension, both in himself and in others. Despite his quiet and somewhat retiring character, he would make it clear when he thought ideas lacked rigour (or lectures were not up to standard!). Michael was very dear to many: there is no doubt that his legacy will continue and the memory of his kindness will stay with us.

Written by Dave Leon, Bianca de Stavola and Simon Cousens.