In Memory of James Perham "JP" Stanley

James Perham Stanley (ASA 1947, MAAA 1965, PhD 1949) died in Toronto, Ontario on June 9, 2020, at the age of 94.

Known to his family as “Perham” and to his friends and colleagues as “JP” or “Stan”, James Perham Stanley was born on February 7, 1926 in Trail BC, where his father was an engineer designing mining systems for the nickel mine under development there.  He attended a one-room schoolhouse where he mastered two grades at a time, completing six grades in three years.  When his family moved to Toronto, he was awarded a scholarship at Upper Canada College.  He continued as a precocious and talented student, graduating in the Class of 1942 as Head Boy at the age of 16.

He went on to distinguish himself at the University of Toronto, being awarded a PhD in Mathematics in 1949, at the age of 23. While studying at UofT, he was part of the team that won the Putnam Prize competition for the University, the world’s most prestigious award in mathematics.  During that time, as a graduate assistant at the fledgling UofT Computation Centre, he traveled to England with his new wife Norma Stephenson, where he and a colleague (Beatrice Worsley) worked with Alan Turing at the University of Cambridge on one of the first computers, the famous Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC).  He personally helped prepare EDSAC for its initial computations. In fact, Stanley was able to have the machine make a calculation for Chalk River (atomic energy laboratories) as a test. It has been reported in various histories of early computing that the resulting output - tables of complex gamma functions - was likely the first data produced by a computer that had not been previously computed by a human mind. This was a huge milestone in the evolution of modern computing.

Back at UofT, as detailed in the November 2016 issue of Spacing Toronto “The Story Behind the First Computer in Canada” he played a vital role in helping advance the development of the first functional electronic computer in Canada, the University of Toronto Electronic Computer Mark I (UTEC for short).

Stanley also had an extraordinary involvement in the establishment of modern Defined Benefit pension plans in North America, plans that changed the lives of thousands of workers in the automobile and related sectors, and of his consequent involvement in building up The Wyatt Company as the largest and most influential actuarial consulting firm in the world at the time.  

While obtaining his PhD, Stanley achieved his ASA designation.  Unlike most actuaries at the time, he did not understudy at an insurance firm, but rather prepared for his Society of Actuaries Examinations on his own. To achieve the rank of an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (with the designation ASA) at that time, one had to pass 5 very rigorous examinations, and most candidates would write these over a number of years.  The Society waived the first two exams in Stanley’s instance, based on his academic credentials, and he wrote the remaining three exams in one sitting, thus having mastered all ASA examinations concurrently, a remarkable achievement. 

In 1951, he took his ASA qualifications to Detroit, where he became the United Auto Workers first actuary, working side-by-side with the legendary Walter Reuther in negotiating pension plans that helped establish a critical underpinning of the middle classes in the United States, and Canada.  Reuther had negotiated rudimentary pension schemes with Ford and Chrysler in 1949, but it was the landmark “Treaty of Detroit” he struck with Charlie Wilson, CEO of General Motors in 1950 that set the stage for the introduction of modern defined benefit pension plans.  Reuther needed an expert advisor, and in 1951, Stanley joined him as his righthand man.  He was only 25!  Together, they developed plans not only for the Big 3, but for hundreds of associated supplier companies and other firms such as Massey Harris.

At the age of 31, in 1957, Stanley joined The Wyatt Company, as its first actuary in Detroit. His career with the firm, as with all his previous endeavours, was spectacular, culminating in 1982 with his becoming global President and CEO of The Wyatt Company.  He grew Wyatt into an international powerhouse, merging with a major UK operation (becoming Watson Wyatt) and expanding throughout Asia.  He was traveling constantly, spending time on numerous acquisitions, but was still sought out by both colleagues and clients as a truly innovative and creative technical expert actuary and consultant. After 30 years with Wyatt, JP Stanley retired in 1987 at the age of 61.

Stanley often said he had never gone to work—instead, every day he went to do something he liked.  When asked for career advice he would respond that one should pursue a profession in a field they really enjoyed and to work very hard at it: success would follow.  He always urged people to make their own decisions, stating, ‘it’s your life and your future”.

Stanley was a prolific reader, and he also pursued a life-long fascination with keyboards, having an uncanny ability to sight read music.  While in Detroit, he built a full pipe organ, which was later donated to Christ Church Detroit as a practice organ. His passion for computer technology never abated and he wrote computer programs (including computer games) and mastered new computer equipment regularly, right up to the end of his life.  He diligently maintained a knowledge of current affairs and his unwavering intellectual curiosity never abated.

JP Stanley did so much in his 94 years on this earth: he was a truly remarkable individual. 

He is survived by his second wife Maria, his two sons Samuel S. Stanley and James Perham Stanley, Jr., both from his marriage to his first wife Norma (nee Stephenson; deceased), their respective wives Virginia Stanley and Nadia Stanley, and five grandchildren: Dr. S. Dustin Stanley, Tara Butzi, Laura Moreno, Matthew Stanley and Robert Stanley.