Jim Vaupel was 14 years older than I, and we met only a handful of times in person. He had already established his reputation as one of the world’s top demographers before I had even heard of the field. So our relationship was mainly one of distant admirer and star senior academic.
Even without a close personal connection it is easy to appreciate Jim’s immense positive influence – both for the many colleagues and students who were in a closer orbit, and for everyone in the field of demography.
Jim was an imaginative scientist who gave us important new questions to ponder and examples of how to think them through carefully. He was a charismatic leader and organizer who built invaluable new institutions: the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the European Doctoral School of Demography, Demographic Research, and more. He was a generous mentor who helped to train a new generation of demographers, especially in Europe.
Reflecting on what made Jim so successful and so important to so many, I see one common theme: he was instinctively positive. As a scientist, teacher, and administrator, he consistently saw possibilities where others saw limits. The result is an amazing legacy of ideas, methods, people, and institutions for which we owe him a deep debt. We can also learn some valuable lessons: see the best in others, imagine a different future, and make it happen. Thanks, Jim.