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Remembering Leland Wilkinson, Chief Scientist, Data Visualization Pioneer and Luminary

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Leland Wilkinson, chief scientist, our brilliant, beloved and kind friend, colleague, mentor, academic, author, entrepreneur, musician, pioneer and luminary in data visualization and statistical graphics, passed away on Friday, Dec. 10 in Lake Forest, Ill., following a stroke. His passing is an incredible loss to our community, and we will miss him immeasurably.

Leland’s work and writings will be celebrated and will live on in the many brilliant collaborations, talks, students, colleagues and lives he inspired. His impact will continue to be felt across the statistics, data visualization, data science and machine learning communities. Fellows recognize individual Makers who have made iconic contributions and sustained technical achievements to further the democratization of AI. The Fellows unanimously named Leland an Fellow, posthumously, for his contributions to the community, customers and code. The Leland Wilkinson Award for AI and Data Visualization and a series of talks and gatherings during the H2O World conference this spring will be dedicated to celebrating Leland’s life and work.

“Lee was creating, teaching, learning and making to the very end. He inspired all of our Makers at, and data scientists everywhere, with his genius and humanity. His work, writings and memories will live on with us and our journey,” said Sri Ambati, CEO and founder,

Please share memories, stories, and thoughts, as together we remember and celebrate Leland’s life and legacy at

About Leland Wilkinson

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Leland wrote SYSTAT, the first comprehensive, statistical software package designed expressly for microcomputers. It represented an end-run around the punch cards, queues and mainframes required for statistical analysis at that time. The program was the first of its kind to include comprehensive graphics driven by a command structure of universally applicable options, foreshadowing the graphical structure that Leland would more fully develop and articulate during the 1990s. SYSTAT also was the first software implementation of the now widely used heatmap display. He founded SYSTAT, a company of the same name, headquartered in Evanston, Ill., and later sold SYSTAT to SPSS in 1995. He went on to build a team of graphics programmers there who developed the nViZn platform that produces the visualizations in SPSS, Clementine, and other analytics services. Leland wrote the seminal book on statistical graphics, his magnum opus, The Grammar of Graphics, in 1999. The Grammar of Graphics provided a new way of creating and describing data visualizations, a language — or grammar — for specifying visual elements on a plot, which was a completely novel idea that has fundamentally shaped modern data visualization. The book served as the foundation for the R package ggplot2, the Python Bokeh package, the R package ggbio and helped shape the Polaris project at Stanford University.

Leland received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a bachelor of sacred theology degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a doctorate from Yale. He was an adjunct professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a fellow of the American Statistical Association, an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He won the best speaker award at the National Computer Graphics Association and the Youden prize for best expository paper in the statistics journal Technometrics. He served on the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics of the National Research Council, was vice chair of the Board of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences (NISS) and served on the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) at UCLA. In addition to The Grammar of Graphics, numerous journal articles, the original SYSTAT computer program and manuals, and patents in visualization and distributed analytic computing, Leland is the author (with Grant Blank and Chris Gruber) of Desktop Data Analysis with SYSTAT and co-author of Demystifying AI for the Enterprise, to be published this month.

To learn more about Leland’s life and work please visit:

The Grammar of Graphics, his magnum opus.

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Global Communications Team