Ellen Ann BeGole was born in Detroit in 1934. Her father was an engineer and inventor who held multiple patents. Perhaps not surprisingly, his daughter exhibited a similar knack for mathematics. During the 1950s, women were still generally expected to pursue “less-challenging” careers, if any. Never one to choose the easy road in life, Ellen decided to dedicate hers to mathematics, obtaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1955 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1969. She thus became one of the few women in the United States with degrees in mathematics, and she was on track to becoming an even rarer breed by setting her heart on an academic career in biostatistics. Six consecutive years of research earned her a PhD degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974. She settled at the University of Florida for 2 years (where she played the carillon in her spare time), before finally finding her home at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Here, she worked as a biostatistician from 1975 until her retirement in 2000, and even beyond as a professor emeritus.
An adventurous spirit, Ellen enjoyed travelling, visiting new places, and making new friends along the way. A long road trip through Europe proved excellent for this purpose. She would not be fazed by the lack of company, nor by the anything but straightforward nature of travelling at the time. But her appetite for adventure and her interest in other cultures really surfaced when she won a Fulbright scholarship in 1998, allowing her to teach at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for 5 months as a visiting professor, a time she remembered as a true highlight in her career. She would return to the Middle East in April 2000, this time teaching at Kuwait University. Her general interest in people was also readily apparent during her time at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she mentored an impressive number of orthodontic graduates throughout their training and into PhD-degree projects. She enjoyed interacting with these promising young students of diverse origins, and she made a point of knowing everyone personally and expressing a genuine interest in their hopes and worries. It would not be an exaggeration to state that she was somewhat of a mother figure to many of them; she was always there in case of trouble or just to simply catch up. She also had a keen sense of humor and in her spare time enjoyed reading, woodworking, and assembling intricately finished clocks.
During her long and productive career, she authored or coauthored more than 150 articles and manuscripts, the last one as recent as 2017 (at 82 years old), demonstrating that at any time in her career, her mind was like her pencil: always sharp. One of her well-known book contributions was the “Statistics for the orthodontist” chapter in Orthodontics: Current Principles and Techniques (editions 2-4). She was also a gifted speaker; this spurred the DePaul Geographical Society to invite her to talk about her experiences in the Middle East for the 40th anniversary year (Desert Odyssey: An American Woman in Saudi Arabia, February 10, 2001). Her presentation on “evidence-based orthodontics” for the Illinois Orthodontic Alumni Association in 2004 earned her a standing ovation. Scientifically, she was forward thinking, as shown by the ubiquitous use of computers, (cubic) splines, and principal component analysis in her early research projects, all of which play prominent roles in the current state-of-the-art statistical study of shape. She also contributed more than her share to the orthodontic community by reviewing an incomprehensible number of manuscripts for (among others) the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics , the Angle Orthodontist , the World Journal of Orthodontics , and the Korean Journal of Orthodontics . Her career is a shining testament to what can achieved in life when it is lived in the way Ellen liked her science: unbiased, but also level headed, open eyed, incurably curious, and warm hearted. She was a truly unique and wonderful person. She is survived by her daughter Jane and her granddaughter Melanie, who seems to have inherited her grandmother’s mathematical genes, recently graduating as a physicist with a major in astronomy.
Many years ago, I started my journey in orthodontic research with a project pertaining to arch form. While preparing to analyze the accumulated data, I came into contact with Professor BeGole. She graciously gave me some manuscripts that I had trouble accessing. She also spontaneously offered to proofread my work, and she gave me some invaluable pointers with regard to the statistics. We continued regularly corresponding by e-mail, and this eventually developed into a years-long close friendship and multiple visits to her home in Wheaton, Illinois. I planned to impress my friend and mentor during the public defense of the PhD-degree project she inspired me to undertake ages ago. Heartbreakingly, not long after I invited her, Professor BeGole unexpectedly passed away. Now it seems that there is little I can do for my dear friend, other than to honor her memory. I am truly thankful for the small part I was allowed to play in the life of this remarkable woman.
When thinking about people who were influential in orthodontics, we often remember those who spend lots of time in the limelight, the “rock stars of orthodontics.” It is easy to overlook those who diligently toil away in the background to enable others to have their moments of scientific glory: the ones teaching study design and data analytic techniques, making sure appropriate conclusions are drawn from the experimental data, and advising journals on the applicability of the statistics used in submitted manuscripts. We owe much of the progress that has been made in orthodontics with respect to the improvement of scientific standards to these mathematically trained people. We owe it to them, these less vocal “giants of orthodontics,” to never forget.