Obituary: John Haigh
By: Anna Ford
Last updated: Monday, 29 March 2021
John Haigh, a Reader in Mathematics at the University of Sussex and an expert in probability, was born on 31 December 1941. He grew up as an only child in Skelmanthorpe, a village near Huddersfield in Yorkshire.
From Penistone Grammar School, in 1960 he won an Open Scholarship to study Mathematics at Brasenose College, Oxford, gaining first-class honours and a University Prize in 1963. He then moved to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to do research in probability under the supervision of David Kendall and John Kingman. When Kingman left for the University of Sussex, it was natural for him to follow, though remaining registered for a Cambridge PhD.
From his research studentship, John progressed to a lectureship at Sussex in October 1966. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1989 and to Reader in 1993. He retired in September 2019.
He published some 60 research and expository articles, most being within the field of applied probability. Early papers were thus on applications of probability to questions in biology and genetics. His most cited paper is a joint paper with the Sussex biologist John Maynard Smith on the hitch-hiking effect of a favourable gene.
The UK National Lottery began in 1994 and gained John’s immediate interest: his first paper on it was published less than a year later. He never bought a ticket. However, he was a media pundit on probability and the Lottery.
He wrote seven books: two editions of both Taking Chances: Winning with Probability and Probability Models; The Hidden Mathematics of Sport with Robert Eastaway; Probability: a Very Short Introduction; and Mathematics in Everyday Life. The last was based on a course that he invented for first-year Mathematics students at Sussex.
Service to the University and to the Mathematics department was a salient part of John’s career. He was Chairman of the Mathematics Division from 1989 to 1995. This was a fraught period of near-forced early retirements, major re-organisation and threat of closure, but also, eventually, of renewal, in which he played a visionary role. John also organised Sussex’s initial registration under the Data Protection Act, chaired a succession of major committees, served on the Senate for almost 14 years and on the University Council for nine.
He met his wife, Kay Raspin, on holiday in Crete; they married a year later, and had two children, Daniel and Adam. Kay and Adam survive him, along with his grand-daughter Isabella. He died on 9 March 2021 in Brighton, having been treated for myelodysplasia for over 15 years.
Author: Professor James Hirschfeld from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex
Obituaries for John Haigh have been published online, including in the Guardian.