MA (Econ), PhD (Social Medicine) (Charles)
(Deceased)
Demography
1976

Lado Ruzicka (1920 -2013)

Dr. Lado Ruzicka has died in Britain at the age of 92. He was a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences, having been elected in 1976 in the field of Demography.

Lado was Czechoslovakia's gift to Australian demography. He brought a brilliant scientific mind to this country and a deep knowledge of statistical demography, especially in the health and mortality subfields. He rewrote Australia's demography and taught a generation of Australian and foreign demographers who were to make a mark on the world.

Ladislav Theodor Ruzicka was born in Prague on 9 November 1920, just two years after the creation of Czechoslovakia out of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for which his father had once been employed to collect taxes. Lado died on 10 July 2013 in Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire UK, where he and his wife, Penny Kane, had been living for the previous twelve months.

Lado’s education and professional life in Czechoslovakia was notable, not only for its achievements, but also because under both Nazi and then Communist dictatorships he was expelled from university studies and forced to leave Prague to perform manual jobs.

Following the occupation and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia consequent to the Munich Pact, in November 1939 the Germans closed the universities and they were not to open again for six years. Lado was then aged 18 and this interrupted his training in economics. After the war, he began a Ph.D. in economics at Prague's ancient and prestigeful Charles University on the economic impact of the deportation of 2.5 million Sudeten Germans, which led to population projections and hence to his subsequent interest in demography. He learnt how to construct projections and thereafter he produced the first Czech population projections. Unfortunately he was removed from the University before the thesis could be completed.

Lado’s intellectual abilities and considerable tenacity enabled him to overcome each handicap. By 1958 he was a lecturer in statistics in Charles University's Medical School of Hygiene and Epidemiology focusing on demography and writing a doctoral thesis on the health status of the working-age population. Subsequently, as a requirement for being appointed to a Readership, he successfully submitted another thesis, this time on suicide, as a result of relevant data being released in the early 1960s. This was published, in Czech, in 1968 as Suicide in Czechoslovakia from a Demographic and Sociological Perspective. This was a subject that continued to interest him to the end of his life with a series of articles published on the subject, with both an Australia and global perspective. His last article on suicide in the Czech Republic, jointly written, was published in 2006. But in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s it was not the most tactful choice of subjects: the regime did not believe there was cause for suicide, and the subject itself stirred memories of the country's first president, Thomas Masaryk whose study, Suicides as a Phenomenon of Modern Civilisation, preceded that of Emile Durkheim by almost 20 years.

Between 1959 and 1968 Lado had more than 40 publications to his name as either author or co-author. While the majority of this output was studies on mortality and causes of death, he also wrote on nuptiality, fertility, rural population change, demographic ageing, and the methodology of population projections. He departed Charles University as associate professor of health and biostatistics.

During 'the Prague Spring' of 1968, he joined the United Nations Population Division in New York as a consultant. In the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia he decided not to return to Prague. However as life in New York was not to his taste, the following year he went to India for two years as United Nations Expert at the International Institute for Population Studies (IPPS), Chembur, in Mumbai. An important cohort of Indian demographers give much credit to his input into the institute and the education that they received during those years.

While there, he sought an appointment to the Australian National University (ANU). In his application he sent an impressive CV, and also a pile of books and papers in Czech. George Zubrzycki, starting with his knowledge of Polish, toiled on these so that we could submit a report to the selection committee. Even then, the committee said that it would not give a 50- year-old man, who wrote in a mysterious language, tenure immediately. The Senior and Professorial Fellowships were to come later. There were also immigration problems and the authorities, employing a cloak-and-dagger approach, taught me to refer to him only as "Mr. Wilson".

In his typically adventurous way, Lado changed his air ticket from Bombay to Canberra for a cheaper one to Perth, where he bought an old Holden-Torana and drove in spite of a series of problems across Australia to the Coombs Building, at the ANU. His first words at the front door were "No one told me that Canberra was Scandinavia in the South Seas". Those were the days when his speech was entrancingly tinged with Indian-English expressions and pronunciations.

Lado settled down immediately to teach and undertake research, and a stream of papers poured forth. He gave all his waking hours to demography and to the Department. He also made a major input into Mick Borrie's National Population Inquiry, early seeing the implications of the onset of Australian fertility decline after 1971. The only exception to this relentless application was when he went walkabout, inviting colleagues for a drink and astonishing them by choosing for this purpose the Major Mitchell pub in Berrima or its equivalent in Cooma (IIPS staff in Bombay have similar memories of going to Puna or further afield).

In 1971 he published, jointly with Vladimír Srb and Milan Kučera, the key textbook on demography in the Czech language, Demografie. At about this time the Czech authorities reclaimed his doctorate for his refusal to return. The ANU did not recognise the legitimacy of this action.

I enjoyed his insights when collaborating on the book, The End of Demographic Transition in Australia or papers and chapters like "The Australian fertility transition" for Population and Development Review or "Demographic levels and trends" for the World Fertility Survey conference and volume. He always took an interest in social and demographic change in the Third World, as evidenced by his editing of The Economic and Social Supports for High Fertility.

Lado wrote the syllabuses which allowed the ANU to establish the then MA (Demography) program (now the Master of Social Research (Demography) program) in 1976 and subsequently lectured in its courses. He also made a major contribution in establishing the computer database for the Matlab Demographic Surveillance System in Bangladesh. He received recognition in Australia and internationally. He was the second Vice President of the Australian Population Association, 1982-84, and the first editor of its Journal of the Australian Population Association. He headed the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population 's Scientific Committee on the Biological and Social Correlates of Mortality, organising important workshops and editing volumes from them. He was coordinator of the United Nations’ CICRED research program, 'The Effects of Social, Political and Structural Changes upon Mortality'.

Lado retired at the end of 1985 as professor of demography at the ANU and he and his wife, Penny Kane, moved to one of Australia's only real villages, the old gold mining town of Major's Creek. Here they imaginatively turned the abandoned old school into a magnificent place to live and visit and welcomed many friends as guests. There, singlely and collaboratively, they wrote, edited, reviewed and consulted for WHO, AusAID and other bodies. Fourteen books, chapters and papers appeared during the 1990s. They also used Major’s Creek as a base for four-wheel drive expeditions all over Australia, especially to the remote, lonely deserts. Few immigrants assimilated as completely as Lado and he never lost his love for the desert.

He befriended the locals at Majors Creek and the local town of Braidwood where he found a fellow Mitteleuropan remnant of the old empire, now running an art studio there, who, when buried, was cloaked with his family’s Hapsburg ensign. Lado enjoyed the irony of this turn of events.

In July 2012 he left his beloved Australia for the UK, to be close to relatives in Europe, where he died almost exactly a year later. Although enjoying England, and not minding the winters, he grumbled that the summers there were unlike those of sunny Prague, let alone in Australia.

From my own point of view, he gave me tremendous and much needed support in the ANU's Department of Demography from his arrival in 1971 until his retirement at the end of 1985. We worked closely at both the professional and personal level, to good effect. His wisdom, knowledge, and enquiring mind, coupled with his philosophy of life, were always welcome.

With the death of Lado Ruzicka, demography has lost a figure of world renown. He was widely respected by his colleagues and past students for the wisdom, backed with knowledge, and carefully balanced advice that he gave. He will be remembered as an exceptionally intelligent, erudite, practical, and unsentimental individual, who retained the capacity to be both sensitive and kind. Always cheerful, he lived life fully and found pleasure and fulfillment wherever he went. That was partly because he possessed a genuine egalitarian regard for his fellow man, an attitude that fitted well with his new Australian milieu. He was widely acknowledged for his contribution to demography and the wider social sciences. After his posting to Mumbai he retained a special interest in Asian demography thereafter. His personal charm earned him the friendship and genuine respect of his Australian and Czech colleagues alike.

In later years he was pleased to re-establish contact with the family he left behind in Czechoslovakia. Towards the end he was pleased to meet his great granddaughter in a Europe where its citizens could once again move freely. But despite a life of almost Kafkaesque frustrations, he retained his optimistic idealism for his entire life.

Jack Caldwell

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On 11 July 2013, Ladislav (Lado) Ruzicka, a distinguished Czech demographer who spent much of his professional career in Australia, passed away. His death closed the life story of a remarkable man, and one of the very few Czechs to make a mark in the international demographic scene.

Ruzicka was born in Prague on 9 November 1920. As a young man he suffered the consequences of the Nazi 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 H. C. 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 until today is viewed as a major contribution to the demographic history of Australia. 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, Ruzickaa 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.

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.

Libor Stloukal

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Rome

  • Lado RUZICKA (2000) Trends and patterns of the global health impact of suicide behaviour., In Violence and Health: Proceedings of a WHO Global Symposiumn, 12-15 October, 1999, Kobe/Japan: 33-61. WHO Centre for Health Development, Kobe/Japan (eds.). Kobe/Japan: World Health Organization, Geneva.
  • Lado RUZICKA and Ching Y. CHOI (1999) Youth Suicide in Australia, Journal of the Australian Population Association, 16(1/2):29-46 .
  • Lado T. RUZICKA (1998) Suicide in Countries and Areas of the ESCAP Region, Asia-Pacific Population Journal 13(4):55-74.
  • Lado RUZICKA (1996) Nuzialita, In Enciclopedia delle Scienze Sociali, VI:277-286. Prof.Riccardo Bordonaro (eds.). Roma/Italy: Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana.
  • Lado T. RUZICKA and Ching Y.CHOI (1996) The Demographic and Social Profile of Suicide Mortality in Australia, GENUS 52(3-4):135-154.