August 20, 2020

Rhea Kish dies at 100

Rhea Kish, the last surviving member of ISR’s founding families, died at age 100 at her home in Ann Arbor on August 5, 2020. Rhea and Leslie Kish were married and moved to Ann Arbor in 1947 where Leslie joined the group of social scientists and statisticians who would found the Survey Research Center and later the Institute for Social Research. The early post-war years were not easy for the founding families. Although their pictures do not hang on the wall of ISR’s 6th floor conference room, the collective contributions made by Rhea, other faculty spouses and children of these close-knit founding families during these early years were key to the survival of the fledgling research group and to the Survey Research Center and Institute for Social Research as we know them today.

Because Leslie was employed with the University, policies in effect in the late 40s prevented Rhea from seeking a UM position. Trained as pianist, Rhea easily engaged with University and Ann Arbor music communities, playing for recitals and performing as a concert pianist until 1971. In addition to her music, Rhea had a distinguished career as a community leader, social activist and non-profit organizer and volunteer. As one example of her lifelong commitment to the Ann Arbor community, In 1963 Rhea served as the first female Board President of the Ann Arbor Board of Education. A wonderful summary of her many contributions and achievements may be found in her obituary which appeared in the Ann Arbor News on Sunday, August 15, 2020.

In addition to her busy career, Rhea was a strong supporter of Leslie’s work, serving as an editor for his many books and publications and engaging with him directly in the global outreach and social networking that were key to the success of the ISR Sampling Program for Survey Statisticians (SPSS). In the early 1960s Leslie and Rhea made a commitment to give of their time to promote increased training opportunities for young survey statisticians from the world’s developing countries. The result of their initiative was the SPSS that has now trained hundreds of survey statisticians from over 120 countries. Following Leslie’s death in 2000, Rhea continued to promote the SPPS program, founding the Leslie Kish International Fellowship which continues to provide annual support for Leslie Kish Scholars from developing countries to attend each summer session of the SPPS. Until 2019, a highlight of each student’s SPSS experience was the opportunity to meet with Rhea over a mid-day lunch or at a picnic at a faculty member’s home. Rhea was beloved by these students but true to form, she often plied them with challenging questions concerning political and social conditions in their home country.

Rhea also assumed the role of godmother for Leslie’s doctoral students, freely dispensing sound advice on life, love, career, politics and occasionally baseball. She will be deeply missed. Our thanks goes out to her and to her family for all they have brought to the Institute for Social Research and to our personal lives.