It is my sad duty to inform you about the passing away of Prof. Jiří Vávra (born 1933), an eminent Czech scientist, on October 1, 2018. A biologist by soul, parasitologist by profession, protistologist and microscopist by heart, Jiří was my teacher, who later became a dear friend. Jiří was one of the last students of Otto Jírovec, the father of Czech parasitology, and he liked to remember the old days.
Jiří’s life-long passion was clear – the microsporidia! He got his first microscope at the age of 14, an expensive present in those days and he instantly loved it. He did not waste time and when he was 16, visited the Faculty of Sciences, and managed to convince Jírovec to take him into his lab, already as a secondary school student. In his long scientific career, Jiří did research on various protists, mostly using electron microscopy, but microsporidia parasitizing insects remained his favorites. Hence, when in 1982 I first time came to his room which served both as an office and a lab, and instantly liked the atmosphere (it was packed with papers, books and specimens), Jiří asked me to study the life cycle and ultrastructure of microsporidia of mosquitoes. I indulged in it, and learned a lot from Jiří in the process, not only about science, but about life in general.
Even in the bleak 80’s of Czechoslovak real-socialism, at the Department of Parasitology headed by Jiří, the atmosphere was liberal, open minded, western-oriented, and peppered with Švejk-ian jokes. In the messy basement of the faculty’s building, Jiří was known, along with Josef Chalupský and Jaroslav Kulda, as an enthusiastic teacher of a handful of parasitology students, whom he was also always ready to help in their careers, such as e.g. protecting them from various stupidities of the regime. Equipped with an outstanding memory (which lasted till his last days), Jiří remembered who published what and where decades ago, liked to chat in several languages in which he was fluent, cherished the only electron microscope around and became something like its guardian, sometimes he simply took off for the field, which he liked a lot…
After he reached the retirement age, Jiří had a hard time imagining leaving the university. So he decided to learn molecular biology and started pipetting. He moved his operations from Charles University in Prague to the Institute of Parasitology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice (= Budweis). There, he closely collaborated with Miroslav Oborník, Ivan Fiala and myself, and especially in later years became closely attached to the electron microscopy unit headed by Jana Nebesářová. Moreover, Jiří taught protistology at the University of South Bohemia until the age of 83 and his lectures were very highly rated by the students. His Budweis connection grew stronger, which was reflected in his frequent visits, mentoring students and publication output.
Jiří submitted his last paper two days before passing away. In those days I visited him and his wife in his very pleasant house in the city of Nižbor, where he told me – “… on this paper, my name will be accompanied by the small note – deceased – and that is perfectly OK”. After a relatively short illness, Jiří, at the age of almost 86, left us in great spirits (he liked to say something along these lines “How I envy you guys – this is golden age for science…”). We are deeply saddened by his loss, yet cherish his memory. His imprint in the Czech parasitology and the world protozoology is ever lasting.
Julius Lukeš (III)