On December 15th, the UCSB campus flag was lowered to honor Professor Allan Stewart-Oaten. Chancellor Henry Yang described Allan as “an admired colleague and deeply dedicated teacher who touched the lives of generations of students.”
Allan treasured his years at UCSB, instructing his students to take full advantage of their time there and urging them to choose a major not because of what it might pay, but because “it is so interesting it makes you want to live forever.”
He came from a humble background, and his early experience growing up in Australia shaped his social and political world view. He became a passionate advocate for people and causes, writing hundreds of letters to newspapers, government agencies, and people of influence in support of a better, fairer society.
Adopted by a family who survived on a bookkeeper’s modest salary, he later recalled (with much chagrin and regret!) trying to aid his parents with their financial difficulties by suggesting they sell his adopted brother Ken. The family scrimped and sacrificed to send Allan to a private school, where he excelled, eventually winning a scholarship to Melbourne University. He became the first person in his family to receive a college degree.
In 1965, Allan and his first wife Mira, along with their two-month-old son Albert, crossed the Pacific in steerage class on their way to Michigan State University, where Allan earned his doctorate in Statistics.
He did post-doctoral work at Stanford and was hired in 1970 to teach statistics to graduates and undergraduates in what was then the Biology Department at UC Santa Barbara. Allan was in some ways a fish out of water. He had not studied biology, and his students had not studied statistics, but they needed his expertise to design their experiments and analyze their data. During a much-deserved sabbatical to UC Berkeley, he met Linda, his wife of nearly 44 years.
Allan’s major contribution in applied statistics was detecting the effects of a single-point source of environmental damage, in this case the effects on marine ecological communities from effluent from a Southern California nuclear power plant. His widely cited and enormously influential paper on the subject became a standard in the field and is now conventional wisdom, with widespread application among field scientists.
A quintessential “absent minded professor,” Allan often showed up in rumpled clothing, with one shirttail hanging out (for easy access to polish his glasses). He was always welcoming and helpful, and his “office hours” were any time the door was open. He charmed students and peers with his genuineness, honesty and humor. One grad student fondly recalled him “eating half a head of raw cabbage during meetings” and “hunting for glasses that were on top of his head.” She also credited him for his “deeply thoughtful” counseling and helping her obtain “a fabulous fellowship.”
He served as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education in the College of Letters and Science and spent two enjoyable years in Australia as Director of the U.C. Study Center.
After retirement Allan pursued acting and appeared in several plays at the Garvin Theater and elsewhere. Despite his many years living in the US, he never lost his Aussie accent and as a result he was frustrated to be frequently type cast as a British butler.
His accent, along with his enthusiasm for drama, came in handy when he read aloud, every night, to his children and later his grandchildren, using different voices for all the characters. Longer works like Watership Down, Lord of the Rings and Beowulf were big hits in the family, but he could make any work come alive. His grandson Alex remembers Papa Allan reading Microbe Hunters about bacteriologists to him when he was eight years old.
Allan was adored by his family. Yes, he could be crusty, opinionated, even argumentative, but invariably it was in the cause of getting things right. He was available to listen and discuss any topic from personal problems to world affairs and history. When his college-age grandson consulted him about the Classics, Allan, always ready with an opinion, gave his. Plato, he deemed “overrated.” Socrates, “a bit sarcastic.” Euclid, he declared, was “able to articulate what he thought and why he thought it. One of the finest things money can’t buy.”
He was kind, honest, smart, patient with children and insatiably curious (visiting a museum with him took forever). He was genuinely interested in other people and happily spent hours talking to friends his kids brought home about their lives. He was dedicated to inquiry of all kinds and served on several Grand Juries during his retirement.
For nearly 50 years, Allan began every morning with 45 minutes of calisthenics, followed by riding his cheap ten-speed bike from Hope Ranch Annex to UCSB. In his 60s and 70s, he proudly shared triumphant reports of outrunning mopeds along the Obern trial.
When Allan married Linda Stewart and was told she didn’t want to lose her last name, he adopted the hyphenated last name Stewart-Oaten. He was a feminist and life-long progressive. As early as 1976 he wrote a letter to university higher-ups advocating for the appointment of a female Chancellor over the entire UC system.
When the Women’s March came to Santa Barbara, Allan marched. When people gathered for Black Lives Matter and knelt in support of George Floyd, 81-year-old Allan knelt (even though he had to be helped up.) Allan was a good man who wanted to leave the world better than he found it, and he did.
He is survived by his wife Linda, sons Albert, Nicholas, Josh and stepson Klee. Also by his beloved grandchildren Vanessa, Alex, Adrian, Jack, Leo and by two great grandchildren, Charlee and Avery. Also by his dear brother Ken Oaten and many friends and cousins in Australia. A gathering of family and friends to celebrate Allan’s life is planned for January 7. 2023.
Donations in Allan’s memory can be made to: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders, or Union of Concerned Scientists.