The Parzen Window: remembering Emanuel Parzen, who died last weekend

manny parzenAbove, from left: Sam Greenhouse, Sir Ronald A. Fisher, unknown, Carol Parzen, Ingram Olkin, and Emanuel Parzen (my great uncle) in 1961 at the meeting of the International Statistical Institute in Paris (image via

My father’s father died when my father was very young.

My paternal grandmother, née Levy, was remarried soon thereafter to Rabbi Maurice Parzen, whose family had immigrated from Łódź in what is now Poland (I believe that the family name comes from the village of Parzeń in current-day Poland).

The Rabbi’s brothers included Ben Parzen, who would become one of the world’s leading electrical engineers and inventor of an oscillator that could withstand the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear fallout (his greatest invention, among many others). He died in 2005.

The Rabbi’s youngest brother was Emanuel “Manny” Parzen, a world-renowned statistician and pioneer in kernel density estimation, a field which is often referred to as “the Parzen Window” in his honor.

Uncle Manny died on Saturday, February 6 in Florida where he lived with his wife and my aunt Carol.

An obituary was posted by Texas A & M university, where he taught for many years.

When I moved to Austin in 2008, Carol and Manny were still living in College Station, Texas and we visited occasionally.

And while I lived in New York from 1997 to 2008, I saw them frequently because they came to the city often.

Although we weren’t related by blood, Carol and Manny always treated me like a close relative and we would attend services together at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side when they visited the east coast. He loved the fact that they had a band playing in the shul on the Sabbath and that you literally could dance in the aisles as you sang the praises of G-d.

As my cousin Julia Parzen wrote me the other day, “Manny was wonderful at connecting family.” He always made a point of involving me in whatever he was doing in the city and I still stay in touch with many members of my extended family thanks to the connections he made during my New York years.

He was also a fresser, as they say in Jewish. He loved to eat at Indian restaurants in New York and Carol used to tease him that he was the only one of the Parzen brothers who loved eating so much because he was the only one who hadn’t been raised in a kosher household (for the record, Rabbi Parzen loved his desserts, one of my earliest memories of childhood).

Manny was a lovely, lovely man and he always shared a kind word and genuine concern for our family’s well-being.

He was also very funny. I remember once that he had bought dreidels for Georgia P and Lila Jane but he was worried that they might be defective because statistically, their results didn’t align with the stochastic (i.e., random) processes in probability that he had helped to develop. It turned out one of the dreidels was lopsided.

I’m so glad that I got to know him as an adult and that Tracie P got to meet him.

I will miss him and I know that my life is richer because he is part of it.

Read his obituary here.

5 thoughts on “The Parzen Window: remembering Emanuel Parzen, who died last weekend

  1. Hi, I was delighted to find a possible way of re-connecting with Carol Parzen. When Peter and I spent several months in College Station one of our early contacts took us to Seder with the Parzens. Manny and Carol made us feel so at home. From that day Carol ‘adopted’ me and every Wednesday we drove out from College on an ‘adventure’ to see something new. Since they moved and since Manny died, Carol has not been in contact despite my efforts. If you are in contact with her, please let her know I think of her often and how much she made my stay in College Station such a pleasure.
    Many thanks
    Ruth Liss, Norwich, UK

  2. Jeremy: I’m an astronomer at Cornell U. who specializes in statistics in astronomy (“astrostatistics”); I have a joint appointment in the statistics dept., where I teach. I’ve benefited greatly from your uncle’s books and articles, especially for learning about stochastic processes and reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces (infinite-dimensional spaces your uncle introduced into statistics). There’s been a ton written since your uncle’s pioneering work and writing in these areas, but I keep finding myself coming back to his work. It’s at just the right level for scientists who are mathematically adept, but not quite at the level of a theoretical statistician. His explanations are often model of clarity. And in contrast to much of the writing of the time (and more recently!), he writes technically, but with a hint of informality that gives the reader a sense that he delights in the topic.

    Today I was dipping in his famous textbook, *Modern Probability Theory*, and found myself wondering about his biography. A web search eventually led me to your blog. I just wanted to drop you a note, firstly to affirm all the accolades you briefly mention here, but mainly to thank you for giving me a glimpse of the man behind the math. I’m delighted to learn that the man who produced such lovely math was “lovely, lovely” as a person. Cheers, Tom Loredo

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