In a few years, his dynamism made it natural for him to be chosen to direct the Max Planck (MPIDR), which, under his guidance, became one of the main European and world demographic centres. He summoned young researchers from every continent, though in the early years it was mainly Italian researchers—many of them sent by me—who arrived in the institute. In that period Italian was the language most spoken—and heard—in the corridors of its first seat.

Our relation as scientific collaborators, together with mutual admiration and friendship, also led me to spend longer or shorter periods at Rostock. It was on my first visit, in the old seat of the Institute, that, while complimenting him on how he was organizing the scientific research, I said, on the spur of the moment, that I thought the Institute could also take on the task of training. He seized on my suggestion with his usual enthusiasm. I seem to see him now as he said, «Graziella, why don’t we organize a European doctorate in demography together?». With the usual supersonic speed he brought to any new adventure, Jim planned the project of the European Doctoral School of Demography (EDSD). It is a doctorate that is still going strong now, involving all the European schools of demography, and had a great role in training the «millennials» of Italian and European demography, and not only them.

I met Jim in the early 1980s. It was Nathan Keyfitz who introduced us. Those were the years when Keyfitz was in Vienna as Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis at Laxenburg (IIASA) and Jim was there as a Research Scholar along with Anatoli Yashin. I was a researcher at the Istituto di Demografia in Rome and had met Keyfitz during one of his study trips at my Institute. I remember that one day Keyfitz called me from Laxenburg to invite me to spend a study week at the IIASA. There were two researchers there, excellent mathematicians and statisticians, but «not much as demographers» as Keyfitz put it, and they could work with me on a very interesting project. With the help of a specialist, Jim and Anatoli had prepared the so-called «surfaces» for a three-dimensional reading of demographic phenomena, which were extremely useful for describing through images the development of a phenomenon in its three components of «age, period and cohort». Keyfitz knew my studies on mortality and knew that I had a long series of Italian life tables (from 1861 to 1980) for men and women. These data were used to construct the first «mortality surfaces» in modern demographic history. Thus began a collaboration that was to last a lifetime. We published our first article in Genus as early as 1985. Others were to follow in following decades. In the early years of this century Jim and I collaborated on an interesting research project on Sardinian centenarians, publishing various articles together.

But the initial experience remains with me in the story of our friendship. It was undertaken with great enthusiasm after my trip to Vienna followed by Jim’s and Anatoli’s trip to Rome. They arrived early one morning on the Vienna–Rome train. I was waiting for them at the station. They had slept badly on the train and were somnolent, so I took them straight to their hotel. After a few hours they appeared in the Institute, ready for work. The amusing episode I want to tell you concerns Jim. He was a great drinker of «American coffee», which obviously was not to be found in Rome, nor—equally obviously—at Via Nomentana, the seat of the Institute. Close to our centre was a small bar that made an excellent «caffè italiano ristretto», and so I suggested we take a small break to taste it. Jim eyed with surprise the cup the barman placed in front of him as it contained just a sliver of coffee. He exclaimed that he was used to drinking a full cup! As it was impossible in an Italian bar to have what he was asking for, he decided to order another. This was repeated during the two following breaks during the day, at lunchtime and mid-afternoon. Next morning, Jim arrived in the Institute, still hyper-excited after spending a sleepless night: six Italian coffees had played a nasty trick on him, and from then on it would clearly be sensible to reduce the doses. We often recalled this episode and every time we laughed over it. I’d like to think, dear Jim, that you can still remember it and smile with me.

Published in Genus under Creative Commons 4.0 license