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Ladislav Theodor (Lado) Růžička (1920–2013)

by Libor Stlouka

Lado Růžička, by Marlee Maxwell, 1985

Lado Růžička, by Marlee Maxwell, 1985

ANU Archives, ANUA 226-177-6

On 10 July 2013, Ladislav (Lado) Růžička, 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.

Lado 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, Lado’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 Lado as author or co‑author. The majority of Lado’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, Lado was invited to join the Population Division of the United Nations in New York as a consultant. Lado 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 (ANU) in Canberra 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 look twice at a 50-year-old Czech with an unpronounceable name who had hitherto published almost exclusively in his native tongue. But Caldwell’s efforts paid off and Lado 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 his air ticket from Bombay to Canberra for a cheaper one to Perth where he bought a second-hand VW and drove across the Nullabor 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. Lado arrived in Australia as a ‘stateless’ person, but, with ANU assistance, soon became an Australian citizen, a status he valued highly.

Lado’s time in Australia was an extraordinarily successful and productive period in his life. He and Jack Caldwell got along brilliantly, 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, Lado’s time at ANU allowed him to fully pursue his lifelong 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). Lado also published noteworthy studies on nuptiality and fertility in Australia and other countries. Evidence of the high quality of his scientific output is that he was bestowed membership in the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia 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. Drawing on his deep knowledge of statistical demography, Lado also influenced the early education of prominent Australian demographers such as Alan Lopez, Peter McDonald, Gordon Carmichael and Gigi Santow. In recognition of Lado’s pedagogic legacy, the ANU established in 2000 The Lado Ruzicka Prize in Social Research, which is awarded annually to the outstanding postgraduate coursework student of the year.

Lado’s erudition, industriousness and personal charm earned him the friendship and genuine respect of his Australian colleagues. When Jack Caldwell, on the occasion of Lado’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.

Lado 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 Růžička, in 1992 won a three-year PhD scholarship at ANU.

In 1985, Lado 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 the World Health Organization, AusAID and other organisations. With his wife, Penny Kane, he published articles on various demographic topics, and together they beautifully renovated the old schoolhouse in Major’s Creek, a former gold-mining village outside Canberra, where they 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 17 years of Lado’s life were affected by serious health problems, which he faced 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 Růžička, the discipline of demography has lost an extraordinary figure. Those who had the privilege of knowing 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 fully and with joy. Many of us loved him, and we all acknowledge his achievements in demography and his contribution to science.

* Originally published in the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia Annual Report 2013.

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Citation details

Libor Stlouka, 'Růžička, Ladislav Theodor (Lado) (1920–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ruzicka-ladislav-theodor-lado-32935/text41023, accessed 1 March 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Lado Růžička, by Marlee Maxwell, 1985

Lado Růžička, by Marlee Maxwell, 1985

ANU Archives, ANUA 226-177-6

Life Summary [details]

Birth

9 November, 1920
Prague, Czech Republic

Death

10 July, 2013 (aged 92)
England

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