Reverend Professor John Fraser Scott AO

10th October 1928–24th April 2023

John Scott in 1968

John Scott in 1968

John Scott, sometime Professor of Statistics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Sussex, has died in Melbourne aged 94.

John was born in Sunderland, County Durham, but the family moved south and his secondary education took place at Bristol Grammar School, covering the whole of the war years from 1939.  Two scholarships enabled him in 1946 to enter Trinity College, Cambridge.  He sat Part II of the Mathematical Tripos after two years, and Part III, specialising in numerical analysis and statistics, after a further year, gaining his degree in 1949.  He gained his training as the expert practical statistician that he became in posts as Research Assistant at Sheffield University, 1950–53, and Assistant Lecturer at Aberdeen University, 1953–55.  There followed 10 years as Lecturer in Biometry at Oxford University, during which he was employed by the British Government and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to make two visits to Nigeria as technical expert.

Sussex University in 1965 was four years old and its Science Schools three years old.  John was appointed Senior Lecturer in Statistics in October 1965 and rapid promotion followed, to Reader in 1966 and Professor the year after that.  He served as Chair of the Mathematics Subject Group 1968–71, progressing immediately to Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Science), the University then being rather rigidly divided into its Science Area and its Arts and Social Studies Area.

La Trobe University in Melbourne had been open 10 years in 1977, and its similar beginnings to those of Sussex may have contributed to its appointing John that year as its second Vice-Chancellor.  While in Aberdeen he had married Thea Gordon, and by 1977 they had four children, the younger three of whom emigrated with their parents, while 20-year-old Douglas remained in Britain.

At La Trobe the initial generous funding tap had just been turned off.  After years of expansion the future seemed to promise no funds, no growth and static enrolments.  But John realised that north Melbourne lacked educational opportunities, especially in professional disciplines.  Taking over a successful institute of health sciences, with training schools in occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy, was key to the University breaking out from the liberal arts and sciences that it had been restricted to.  Sussex would have been wise to emulate.  Further diversification ensued after John’s 13-year tenure, which thus started La Trobe on its trajectory of subsequent success.  In his time La Trobe increased its share of national research funding and its student numbers grew from 8,800 to 13,000 (they now stand at over 38,000).  In 1990 on retiring from his Vice-Chancellorship John was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).  The John Scott Meeting House on La Trobe’s Melbourne campus is named in his honour.

While still in Britain he had served as a Lay Reader in the Church of England, and on leaving La Trobe he trained for the ministry of the Anglican Church in Australia.  Upon ordination he served for years as a locum minister and associate priest, famed for brilliant and engaging sermons.

In so-called retirement there were many activities and John kept a watching eye on the statistical world.  At the age of 73 he designed a sampling scheme for a capital evaluation of the holdings of the Public Records Office of the State of Victoria (6 million items), and then analysed the results.  That was so successful that he was asked to do the same for the State Film Library.

Thea predeceased John after 66 years of marriage and they also lost their daughter Catriona, a much-loved schoolteacher.  John is survived by their other children Douglas, Tessa and Rachel, as well as by 8 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Melbourne’s newspaper The Age published an obituary in its edition of 10th May 2023, and La Trobe University carried an appreciation on its website at


Charles Goldie