The death of Ladislav (Lado) Ruzicka, a distinguished Czech demographer who spent much of his professional career in Australia, closed the life story of a remarkable man who left a giant mark on the international demographic scene.
Ruzicka was born in Prague on 9 November 1920. As a young man he suffered the consequences of the Nazi occupation and then the Communist dictatorships. Under each of those regimes, he was expelled from university studies and forced to leave Prague to perform manual jobs. Gradually, however, Ruzicka’s intellectual abilities and extreme tenacity enabled him to overcome this initial handicap. In 1958 he took a job as an assistant in the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at Charles University, where he began working on his doctoral thesis on mortality and causes of death in the working-age population (the study was published as a book by Academia in 1966). In the bibliography of Czechoslovak statistics and demography compiled by Jaroslav Podzimek, there are more than 40 publications dating from between 1959 and 1968 that list Ruzicka as author or co-author. The majority of Ruzicka’s output in this period consists of studies on mortality and causes of death, but there is also work on nuptiality, fertility, rural population change, demographic ageing, and the methodology of population projections.
In the late 1960s, during the political thaw in Czechoslovakia, Ruzicka was invited to join the Population Division of the United Nations in New York as a consultant. Ruzicka accepted this invitation with pleasure but after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia he decided not to return to Prague. Life in New York, however, was not to his taste, so in 1969 he transferred to India for a two-year engagement as a UN expert at the International Institute of Population Studies in Bombay. While there, he learned that the Department of Demography at the Australian National University in Canberra (ANU) was looking for a new staff member and decided to apply. The prominent Australian demographer, Jack C Caldwell, who at that time headed the Department, later recalled how much effort it took him to persuade ANU to give a chance to a fifty-year-old Czech with an unpronounceable name who had hitherto published almost exclusively in his native tongue. But Caldwell’s efforts paid off and Ruzicka was eventually hired by the ANU. He approached his journey to Australia in a manner that provides a good illustration of his character and sense of adventure: he exchanged the air ticket from Bombay to Canberra that the ANU sent him for a cheaper one to Perth where he bought a second-hand VW and drove across the Nullarbor Plain and onwards until, after some obstacles along the way, he arrived happily in front of the HC Coombs Building at ANU. This experience led him in later years to become an inveterate explorer of country Australia. Ruzicka arrived in Australia as a ‘stateless’ person but, with ANU assistance, soon became an Australian citizen, a status that he highly valued.
Ruzicka’s time in Australia was an extraordinarily successful and productive period in his life. He and Jack Caldwell got along brilliantly together both professionally and personally, and they quickly became close colleagues. In 1977 they published their joint study The End of Demographic Transition in Australia, which is still considered a major contribution to the demographic understanding. But above all, Ruzicka’s time at ANU allowed him to fully pursue his life-long interest in the comparative analysis of mortality and the health status of human populations, as is apparent from the many articles he published in respected journals and the numerous books he edited under the auspices of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). Ruzicka also published noteworthy studies on nuptiality and fertility in Australia and other countries. Evidence of the high quality of Ruzicka’s scientific output is that he was bestowed membership in the Australian Academy of Social Sciences in 1976, and was repeatedly invited to perform important organisational functions in the IUSSP, including serving for several years as the chair of the IUSSP Scientific Committee on Biological and Social Correlates of Mortality. Ruzicka, drawing on his deep knowledge of statistical demography also influenced the early education of prominent Australian demographers such as Alan Lopez, Peter McDonald, Gordon Carmichael and Gigi Santow. In recognition of Ruzicka’s pedagogic legacy, the ANU established in 2000 The Lado Ruzicka Prize in Social Research that is awarded annually to the outstanding postgraduate coursework student of the year.
Ruzicka’s erudition, industriousness, and personal charm earned him the friendship and genuine respect of his Australian colleagues. When Jack Caldwell on the occasion of Ruzicka’s 80th birthday wrote in the journal Demoz that 'Lado Ruzicka was Czechoslovakia’s gift to Australian demography', he was making a friendly compliment as well as stating an undeniable fact.
Ruzicka remained in touch with Czech demography after 1968 and watched its progress with keen interest. For years he exchanged letters with his former Prague colleagues – mainly Vladimír Srb, Vladimír Wynnyczk and Milan Kučera – and he was a regular reader of the journal Demografie. He visited Prague briefly in the spring of 1990 and again two years later, and on both occasions he spoke at seminars of the Czechoslovak Demographic Society. During his visits to Prague he also offered selfless assistance to young Czech demographers, including the writer of these lines who, thanks to Ladislav Ruzicka, in 1992 won a three-year PhD scholarship at ANU.
In 1985, Ruzicka retired from ANU, but not from work. In the 1990s, he contributed to the writing of more than a dozen scholarly publications and often worked as a consultant for WHO, AusAID and other organisations. With his wife Penny Kane, he published articles on various demographic topics, and together they beautifully renovated the old school in Major’s Creek, a former gold-mining village outside of Canberra, where Lado and Penny welcomed their many friends and from where they often set out in their off-road car on long journeys into the remote corners of Australia. The last seventeen years of Ruzicka’s life were affected by serious health problems, which he faced, however, with extraordinary courage and an admirable state of mind. In July 2012, he left his beloved Australia and settled in the village of Chipping Sodbury in England to be closer to his Czech and English relatives. Ironically, his residence in the United Kingdom was facilitated by the restoration of his Czech citizenship by the Government of the Czech Republic, complete with an official apology for its removal. He died one year later on 10 July 2013.
With the passing of Ladislav Ruzicka, the discipline of demography has lost an extraordinary figure. Those who had the luck to know him personally will remember him as an exceptionally intelligent, erudite, practical, and unsentimental individual, but also as a very sensitive and kind human being who lived life to the fullest and with joy. Many of us loved him, and we all acknowledge his achievements in demography and his contribution to science.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Libor Stloukal is a PhD graduate of the Demography Program (now ADSRI).
A similar article by Libor Stloukal appeared recently in the Czech journal Demographie 55(4), 324-325.