In memoriam Stanislav (Stan) Štefl
(13.11.1955 – 11.6.2014)
During the excursion from IAU Colloquium 175 in Alicante, Myron Smith remarked to me: “On several occasions and for different subjects, I’ve talked to Stan, Rivi, and you separately. But I always get the same answer from each of you. How is that possible?” Obviously, friendship with blind mutual trust is a key element. Like in a mountaineering team.
In fact, Stanislav Štefl was a passionate mountaineer with a strong network of friends. Whenever he travelled to some area he did not yet know, he checked it for climbable mountains, climbable meaning that they required high to very high skills. He climbed Aconcagua (he had to yield to bad weather 200 m below the summit), Chimborazo, Kilimanjaro, volcanoes in Chile, Kamchatka, and much of the rest of the world. This year he undertook an expedition with friends to Antarctica. Although he sometimes encountered high-risk situations, nothing very serious ever happened. Last week, Stan died in a plain car accident in Santiago de Chile. A large community of friends is mourning his untimely death. We have lost a friend of rare stature.
Stan was born in Pocátky (Czechoslovakia) and received his PhD from the Charles University in Prague in 1987, already using IUE data. Thereafter, he held a staff position at the Ondrejov Observatory. In those days, Czechoslovakia and West Germany were mutually remote areas: When I once wanted to call Ondrejov, I could not because my extension did not have the privilege to make calls to places in the highest distance (= overseas) category, into which our telephone software had classified Czechoslovakia.
By this little example, one can perhaps appreciate the efforts Stan had to undertake to make it to the international science stage. He has impressed me again and again with his determination - and ability - to learn new techniques and apply them to the scientific questions in hand. That began with the usage of ESO’s IHAP image processing system in Garching in 1984, when we first met. Stan applied for his own observing time at ESO, and he received it. And he joined the FLASH/HEROS science team led by Bernard Wolf in Heidelberg. From 2004 until 2012, Stan was support astronomer at the VLT Observatory, where he chose interferometry (VLTI) as his duty area, another all new in his career. For the past one and a half years, Stan was on secondment to ALMA, once more radically changing his main field of community support and own scientific work.
Stan was untiring as organizer of complex multi-wavelength and long-term monitoring campaigns. He was always ready to shoulder more than his share in joint projects, may it have been observations or data reduction. Stan was the first to notice and demonstrate by hard work that during outbursts of Be stars their pulsational power spectrum changes. Stan realized that only the integration of dynamic models with detailed radiative transfer calculations would permit the stagnation in the understanding of the disks of Be stars to be overcome. This was a relatively obvious conclusion. But it was him, who took the initiative of inviting Atsuo Okazaki and Alex Carciofi for a collaboration. The combination of their models with Stan’s expertise with VLTI laid the foundation to the quantum leap made forward since. It was one of Stan’s personal trademarks that he would always downplay the importance of his own contributions. Another one was his fine Czech humour, and I remember many a discussion about fabulous Cimrman.
In the same unpretentious way, he served the community. From 1999 to 2003, Stan was elected Chair of the IAU Working Group on Active B Stars. As such, he was the spiritus rector of the very successful workshop “Active OB Stars: Laboratories for Stellar and Circumstellar Physics” held in Sapporo in 2005.
Over and above applied astronomical research and mountaineering, Stan had one overarching passion, namely the one for his family. His daughter Marketa just finished her high school degree, and Stan, his wife Magdalena, and Marketa were almost literally on the move to Ondrejov, where Stan was to lead the ALMA Regional Centre node, when his life ended so abruptly. We extend our sincere condolence to his family. May the unimaginable strength Stan has shown throughout his life eventually help also them.