«I was a statistician too but then I moved up to Demography». That’s what Jim answered to Francesco Lagona, an Italian statistician (and my future husband), when I introduced them in 1998. Yes, Jim was a Demographer, an extraordinary, keen one. He had multidisciplinary interests in biodemography and mathematical demography. He also studied the policy implications of current demographic trends of low fertility, high immigration, and longer lives. To all these fields, he gave major contributions during his intense career. Jim had ideas and the ability to make them happen.
I met Jim in early 1998 when I arrived in Rostock, sent by my supervisor Graziella Caselli. I was not excited to spend the last year of my PhD in an ex-DDR, unknown village in the North of Germany. I wanted to go to the US, but Graziella had already decided that I would be her first Italian contact with the newly born Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. The first impact was certainly not exciting for me, so much so that Jim wrote to Graziella that he was happy to have me in his research group but that he wasn’t sure if I was as happy to be there. Today I can say how fortunate was Graziella’s decision! Jim was a great Maestro. He paid close attention to students and junior researchers to whom he used to say «I’m your boss, but when it comes to science, we argue peers to peers». After my PhD, I came back to Rostock as post-doc and then as research scientist. I had the privilege of experiencing the growth of the Institute, of seeing the birth of many important initiatives: the International Max Planck Research School, the open-access journal Demographic Research, the European Doctoral School of Demography, the Human Mortality Database, the International Longevity Database, the Springer Series Demographic Research Monographs, just to mention the most significant ones; an extraordinarily formative period to my career for which I have a deep feeling of gratitude towards Jim. It was also a very pleasant time for Francesco and me and we both ended up loving the city of Rostock, which always intrigued Jim who couldn’t understand how we could prefer Rostock to Rome. Amused by our stories, he often proudly told our positive experience to Max Planck’s international guests. When in 2005 I became associate professor in Messina (Italy), it was very hard for me to leave the Max Planck Institute. Jim understood my strong regret thus, from then until 2017, when he retired under the German law, he arranged that I could permanently keep the Max Planck account (a rare privilege!) and generously invited me every summer to spend a research period at the Institute. We have been in contact until few weeks ago when, with his usual enthusiasm, he accepted my unfortunately belated invitation to write an article for Genus.
Over the years, I have had many opportunities to enjoy Jim’s company. Jim was a bright, sociable and communicative person. He enjoyed the company of friends and colleagues. I have sat many times at his same dining table. He liked refined food and good wine, overall he loved porcini mushrooms and fish. And he loved to have dinner in front of the sea. I still remember how much he enjoyed those fabulous moonlit dinners in the Bay of Mazzarò in Taormina (Sicily) on the occasion of a workshop on supercentenarians. Ciao Jim!
Published in Genus under Creative Commons 4.0 license