Tributes to Nathan  Keyfitz

1913 – 2010

by Wolfgang Lutz, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Detlof von Winterfeldt

Nathan Keyfitz, leader of IIASA's Population Program from 1983 to 1991 and IIASA Deputy Director during 1992, passed away on April 6, 2010, at the age of 96. Keyfitz was one of the giants of demography. He is credited for developing the field of mathematical demography and at IIASA he also pioneered the application of demographic methods to several other fields.

Nathan came to IIASA in 1983 from Harvard University, where he was the Andelot Professor of Sociology Emeritus. Previously, he had been a professor at the University of Toronto (1959-1963), the University of Chicago (1963-1968), and the University of California, Berkeley (1968-1972).

It was at Chicago that Nathan began to apply mathematical tools and computer technology to the analysis of demographic data. In 1968 he published his groundbreaking Introduction to the Mathematics of Population that described his methodology.

At IIASA he increasingly applied these demographic methods to areas outside of demography as he flourished in IIASA’s interdisciplinary atmosphere in areas such as sustainable development and foreign aid. Much of the work IIASA’s Population Program is doing today – from applications of the multi-state model to probabilistic population projections to population-environment analysis – has its roots in Nathan’s creative ideas.

After leading IIASA's Population Program, Nathan became an Institute Scholar from 1992 to 1993, and served as IIASA's Deputy Director from April to October 1992, when he led the organization of the major 1992 IIASA conference on the challenges for systems analysis in the nineties and beyond. Nathan also established an association for IIASA alumni, known as the IIASA Society, which today has nearly 900 members.

Nathan, who was married to Beatrice (Orkin) Keyfitz from 1939 until her death in October 2009, had two children, Barbara and Robert.

We were privileged to have him at IIASA and we will always treasure his memory. He was exceedingly dedicated to IIASA and an incredibly kind and humble person given his seminal contributions to research.

A memorial service honoring the life of Nathan Keyfitz will be held at 1 p.m. on April 13 at the Bigelow Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery (580 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA). pointer More

An online guestbook for personal condolences can be found

by Peter E. de Janosi, IIASA Society Honorary President

A formal obituary of Nathan Keyfitz would set forth in great detail his enormously distinguished career as an innovative and influential demographer, a teacher and mentor to many, and a constructive force in several institutions. Those who wish to know more about the facts of his life and work can find them in other places, as he is deservedly well commemorated. The words that follow are restricted to a tribute to a man who had a lasting influence on IIASA, and who created the IIASA Society.

I first met Nathan in the 1980s when he joined IIASA to establish what became the Population Program, and I served as the US representative on the Council. Those were troubled years for the Institute, marked by financial problems due to the sporadic and uncertain support of the American National Member Organization, as well as by other organizational challenges. During this time, Nathan, as one of the senior members of the staff, was a tower of strength. He carried out his path-breaking research, and exerted a remarkably positive and calming influence on the Institute.

He was an exceptionally kind and humble gentleman. I learned more about Nathan's sterling qualities during the early 1990s when I joined IIASA, and had the honor and pleasure to work closely with him. His broad vision and uncanny ability to grasp the essence of problems, his interest in mentoring his younger colleagues, and his commitment to the Institute were impressive. He adhered to the highest scholarly standards, but generously gave a chance to those who shared his aspirations. He never lost his temper, but he did not suffer fools gladly.

He had a deep interest in the health and welfare of IIASA, and he never hesitated to give time to help, not only with scientific matters, but also with organizational ones. A splendid example of this was his idea to establish an alumni association. He rightly believed that many of us who spent time in Laxenburg would wish to stay in touch with it, and former colleagues. Nathan was not only a man of ideas, but also of action. Therefore, he proceeded to create what has become the IIASA Society that now has 939 members. While the Society has not met all the fine goals Nathan had in mind for it, its existence is entirely due to his initiative. For this, and for his many other contributions to IIASA and science, we are deeply grateful.

Nathan generously named IIASA in his will.  More information regarding his bequest.

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Last edited: 22 February 2012

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