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in memoriam - Miroslav Kutílek (1927-2016)

It is my sad duty to report that very well-known and famous professor, scientist, teacher, colleague and friend Professor Dr. Miroslav (Mirek) Kutílek passed away on 4 October 2016 at the age of almost eighty-nine.

Miroslav Kutílek, or Mirek, as we called him, was born on 8 October 1927. He spent most of his student and working life at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU), Czech Republic. He obtained all his degrees from CTU. First came MSc. (Ing.) in 1951, followed by the PhD diploma in 1956. Then, ten years later (1966) he defended his dissertation and was awarded the highest academic title of DrSc.

Mirek commenced his very dynamic professional career in the Department of Drainage and Irrigation in the same faculty at the CTU. In 1952 he became a young teacher and within ten years had progressed to the position of Associate Professor (1962). Finally, in 1973, he was appointed full Professor of soil physics and soil hydrology. At this point I should highlight the fact that apart from his busy involvement in the CTU work Mirek was also active at many different institutions all over the world. They included Baghdad University, Iraq, University of Khartoum, Sudan, L´Institut de Mécanique, Grenoble, France, University of California, Davis, USA, Uppsala University, Sweden, Technical University Braunschweig, Germany, College of Soil Physics at the International Centre on Theoretical Physics, Triest, Italy and University of Bayreuth, Germany. Moreover, he held a prestigious position as an expert for FAO and IAEA.

Mirek´s professional career at CTU ended in 1993 with his retirement. This, of course, did not mean at all that he stopped all his scientific activities. As could have been expected from this extraordinary man, he continued writing scientific books as well as articles, and he also wrote fiction under the pen-name of Marek Hofman. Additionally, he worked as an editor-in-chief of international scientific journals such as Soil Technology (1990-1991) and Soil and Tillage Research (1992-2013).

During Mirek´s life his work was honoured several times. In 1975 he was awarded the Silver Felber Medal of the CTU in Prague and in 2010 the President of the Czech Republic decorated him with the Medal of Merit, an award of the Czech Republic for service in science.

Mirek was very much involved in international scientific societies. He was president of the soil physics section of the International Soil Science Society (1986-1990) and, later, an honorary member of this society. Similarly, he had worked in the Czech Soil Science Society, of which he also became an honorary member.

His research was focused on the following topics:

  • Adsorption of water vapour in soils
  • Non-linear transport of water in soil
  • Distribution of soil pores according to retention curves and adsorption
  • Bi-modal and n-modal distribution of soil pores, and their consequences for unsaturated flow
  • Principles of the climate Change

It is a pity that this list of Mirek´s activities cannot express his enthusiasm, his outstanding sense of humour, which he spread around him, his energy which he applied in day-to-day activities as well as in professional and personal conflict situations. He was one of the scientists who fostered relationships between scientists from different countries in the world outside any political and ideological divisions. He brought up his students in this respect. Regardless of any governmental and political regulations, he organised many international symposia, meetings and workshops in Prague, Bratislava and elsewhere, which always turned out as a great success.

At this point I remember an interesting example of Mirek´s unique sense of humour, his personality and also his way of dealing with daily life. It is a story involving his great-granddaughter, which Mirek once told me. This anecdotic dialogue was even published in an editorial honouring Mirek’s achievements in Soil &Tillage Research (Wendroth, 2014).
It went like this:
Mirek´s great-granddaughter: “Grand pappy, where are you going on your bicycle?”
Mirek: “To the cemetery”.
Mirek´s great-granddaughter: ”Who will bring the bicycle back?”

This short story is documenting Mirek´s manner of self-irony, humour and a deeply human way of thinking, his ability to keep things in perspective, to understand the children’s straight and uncomplicated way of thinking. Actually the bike is not important here, what is important is that Mirek’s great-granddaughter cannot miss her Grand pappy and he is supposed to come back to her every time.

Unfortunately, in October of 2016 this special wish cannot be granted anymore. Mirek Kutílek has left not only his great-granddaughter on her own but also all the people who loved him, all his former students, his colleagues, and friends around the world.

This end of story has left over a message for all of us that, sadly, this time Mirek will never come back from his journey on the bike to the cemetery……
He will be missed by all of us.

By Svat MATUL, Professor of Soil and Water Science at the Department of Water Resources, Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources, Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague