Vlastimila "Vlasta" Dvorakova, a former president of the AAPG Europe Region and an important leader in AAPG regional and international activities, died June 12, after a long illness. She was 55.
Dvorakova, a senior researcher for the Czech Geological Survey, was a candidate for AAPG treasurer in 2013. Previously she was president of the AAPG Europe Region in 2011-13, having served the previous two years on the ER leadership council as president-elect, and was the Region's secretary-treasurer from 2006-09.
She also was on the leadership team for several regional and international conferences, including serving as general vice co-chair for the 2014 AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Istanbul, Turkey.
At the time of her death she was representing the Region in the AAPG House of Delegates, from which she received a Distinguished Member of the House award in 2012.
Jeremy Richardson, director of the AAPG Europe Region office in London, worked closely with Vlasta during her years of AAPG leadership, and came to know her as a respected colleague and friend.
He provides this report: A memorial that looks back at her brief but significant career, and the words of those who knew her, worked with her and were close friends.
Vlasta Dvorakova, born March 15, 1960, was raised in Bzenec, Czechoslovakia, a small village in central Moravia, where her father was an agricultural agent for the central government and her mother was a village clerk.
As a consequence of travels with her father throughout central Moravia she developed a desire to study tropical biology at the university – but she was denied an opportunity to study biology because of a quota system that favored the children of party members.
At the same time, there was an opening for a student of geophysics at the University in Brno. And with that, Vlasta's career took a new direction.
After two years in Brno, Vlasta gained admission to the Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia's premier university, where she finished graduate studies in geophysics. Later she joined the Geofyzika Company in Brno, where she worked with Jan Uhmann in the petrophysical laboratory and with Čestmír Tomek on seismic surveys.
About the time of the fall of the "Iron Curtain" she joined professor František Hrouda in the search for deeper understanding of magnetic susceptibility of rocks at KAPPA (AGICO) Ltd. She then worked for a series of private companies including GeoGas, Duke Engineering and Services, Framatome, before beginning work with the Czech Geological Survey.
Vlasta admired Charles Darwin and Leonardo da Vinci, drawn to them because of their attitudes to life. She herself was a brave woman who believed that women should have the same opportunities in life and science as men.
Vlasta was brilliant with foreign languages. She grew up with parents who spoke German and Czech. Russian was a primary language of education during the "Iron Curtain" days, and she could communicate in Slovak, Polish and a few words in French.
Few AAPG members who listened to Vlasta pronounce words in English during committee meetings realized that she did not speak a word of English until after the fall of the "Iron Curtain," when she was about 30.
Vlasta and AAPG
She joined AAPG in 1996 and began a career of illustrious volunteer work for the Association.
Shortly after joining and realizing the high regard AAPG was held in Europe she became passionate about showing the possibilities that a strong European connection could offer AAPG.
Vlasta was awarded the AAPG Certificate of Merit in 2008 and 2012; she was technical program chair for ICE in Athens, 2007; and sponsorship co-chair for the 2011 ICE in Milan.
During that time she also was a distinguished member of the AAPG House of Delegates and coordinator of the VGP and Prowess committees, among many other committees during her AAPG career.
In 2006 she joined the Europe Region Council – an involvement with AAPG that led to her becoming president of the Europe Region in 2011.
After her term of presidential service she remained a strong voice and hardworking servant of the AAPG Europe Region, still taking part in a conference call at the recent ACE in Denver only 10 days before her passing – and keeping quiet on the extreme extent of her poor health.
Vlasta was passionate about the AAPG/AAPG Foundation Imperial Barrel Award initiative, and with the Europe Region competition being held in Prague, Czech Republic, she was a very involved in all aspects of the competition.
Without doubt, Vlasta's last expression of pride in AAPG was to acknowledge the pleasure she took in the European Region team (Royal Holloway, University of London) winning the Global IBA championship in Denver on the last Saturday in May.
When the global debate on hydraulic fracturing emerged about 2009, Vlasta became a public voice of reason in Central Europe on the subject, representing the middle ground between industry and the activists who feared the results of "fracking." She gave many interviews on TV and radio in which she was able to comment with passion and authority on the great achievements – and accidents – in petroleum geology and business.
Everyone who met Vlasta remembers how she combined the precise work and timeliness with emotional engagement. We will miss all this, because she left us after a difficult disease on June 12, 2015.
AAPG was represented at her funeral by Jeremy Richardson from the AAPG Europe office. It was held in the beautiful small town of Bzenec, almost 200 miles east of Prague, where Vlasta grew up.
There were some 70 mourners at her funeral and tributes were paid by her work colleagues and friends in the stunningly beautiful St. Jan's church.
AAPG laid a wreath and said farewell to a valued and trusted friend and colleague before Vlasta was finally laid to rest at the Bzenec cemetery in a family grave.
Tributes and remembrances in her honor from members of AAPG's leadership teams were immediate:
♦ David Curtiss (AAPG executive director) and Randi Martinsen (past AAPG president):
Vlasta was a valuable and highly respected member of the Association, holding several positions of leadership during her nearly 20-year experience as a member of the AAPG. She was hugely influential in her two-year role of president of the AAPG Europe Region, and was on the leadership team of numerous European technical conferences.
She will be remembered as a dedicated, tireless and cheerful worker who did her best to improve the world of geosciences.
And more importantly, she will be remembered as a friend who will be missed by all.
♦ Dave Cook (past president, Europe Region):
Vlasta's untimely passing has come as a severe blow to me personally and the AAPG as a whole. She was a willing and dedicated volunteer and was extremely supportive of AAPG events in Europe and in particular the Imperial Barrel Award.
When I joined the Europe Region Council she guided me through the complexities of the AAPG and taught me much about the way the organization runs.
I will miss her friendship and invaluable advice.
♦ Istvan Berczi (AAPG Honorary member, past president, Europe Region):
Needless to repeat that with the 2004 AAPG Region meeting in Prague and hosting the AAPG/AAPG Foundation "IBA Europe" regional contest there each year since 2008, she opened the door of Central and Eastern Europe for the AAPG.
To be able to appreciate these contributions you should not forget that she lived the first two decades of her professional career in a communist country almost isolated from the west. She understood and respected the mentality of the people in the Central and East European countries with their tumultuous and tragic centuries.
Personally, she was my indispensable adviser and right hand during my whole AAPG career. Having many similar moments and experience in our personal history we frequently understood each other without words, simply from the glimpse of our eyes.
♦ Keith Gerdes (president, Europe Region):
Vlasta was an AAPG member of long-standing and was at the forefront of the expansion of the European Region, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Vlasta worked tirelessly for the young professional and student members and, amongst her many achievements, established Prague as the European Regional finals of the IBA competition.
Vlasta also was a great friend and guide to me as she used her considerable knowledge and intelligence to steer me through my tenure as president of the region with her characteristic patience and good humor.
♦ John Kaldi (AAPG vice president-Regions):
I am shocked and saddened, no doubt as are we all, to hear of the passing of Vlasta Dvorakova. She was an inspirational geologist, respected AAPG leader, consummate professional and friend – it was a tremendous honor and pleasure to work with her in the Regions, on various committees as well as in other technical and professional capacities.
I know we all have our own stories to share about Vlasta, here is mine: I was privileged to be hosted by Vlasta in Prague as an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer and Visiting Professional Geologist – what a great host she was, too: the wine, the food, the beer (she managed to get us a private visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Pilsen – birthplace of pilsner beer)!
Since that first encounter, I kept up with Vlasta regularly, exchanging notes on books, films and travel (she was an avid reader, moviegoer and seasoned traveller) and, of course geology – and lots about progressing the internationalization of AAPG. My wife and I managed to catch up with her for memorable meals in what sounds like a global travelog: Budapest, Barcelona, Houston, Istanbul, Long Beach, Singapore! We planned another reunion in Melbourne this September …
I admired Vlasta's technical knowledge as well as her skills in both her "day job" with the Czech geological survey and in her service to AAPG.
A mentor to both students and YPs, an inspiration to countless young female geoscientists, she epitomized professionalism and the "giving back" to our science. Her contributions to the European Region were fundamental to its growth and the AAPG "brand" being recognized and respected there, as well as worldwide.
For many years her "behind the scenes" organizational skills in the ER drew consistent praise from leaders in other AAPG regions, and had a major influence in the advances made to help make AAPG more of the International organization that we spoke of.
Vlasta never failed to step up when a volunteer was needed – and I believe the epitome of her efforts was the success of the 2015 European Region's IBA team in winning first place in the global competition!
Always pragmatic, and with typical eastern European "gallows" humor, Vlasta never shared details of her illness with her friends. I can hear her saying, "What good would that do?"
Similarly, she would chasten us if we "wasted" time in mourning rather than getting on with the job at hand.
♦ Peter Baillie (president, AAPG Asia Pacific Region):
I was immensely shocked and saddened to learn of Vlasta's passing.
She and I never disagreed on any issue and we were often alone together on the "left" of AAPG politics.
Too young ...
♦ Sa'id Hajri (president, AAPG Middle East Region):
I am extremely saddened by the loss of dear Vlasta. She was one who brought hope, energy and enthusiasm to meetings that she attended.
Vlasta was a very elegant negotiator who did her best to advance geoscience in the regions and around the world. I very much enjoyed her creative thinking in bringing up ideas for collaborations between the European and Middle East Regions.
I will miss Vlasta, the person, the geoscientist and the dear friend.
♦ Gretchen Gillis (past AAPG Elected Editor)
I will always remember Vlasta as a modest, competent, engaging geologist who was a credit to the Czech Geological Survey and AAPG in her professional activities.