Remembering RNDr. Ondřej Šipr, CSc.

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Courtyard at Cukrovarnická, morning, around 2015. I was heading to work, and Ondra was approaching me, just leaving the institute. We looked at each other briefly, and Ondra blurted out, "What are you staring at? I've already earned my keep!" That was typical Ondra’s humor, snappy and unexpected, with a sense of the moment. (MD)

Ondřej Šipr
Ondřej Šipr

Ondra joined the Institute of Physics in 1985 with a basic salary of 1950 CZK per month, and his employment contract was signed by Academician Kvasil. At the Institute of Physics, as a doctoral student, he experienced the last years of the totalitarian regime, the challenging and poor 1990s, the period of consolidation at the beginning of the millennium, and the transformation of the institute into a huge, almost modern, correct, impersonal, and slightly confused institution. He always commented on all the events at the Institute of Physics the same way – "I don't understand it, I'm just a physicist." Based on the evaluation he received from the grant agency, he at one time called himself a "mediocre scientist".

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ondra was incredibly modest but an excellent, widely recognized physicist. Since 1985, he consistently and unwaveringly devoted himself to his topic – calculations aiming for a deeper understanding of the connections between material structure, electronic states, and magnetic properties. He didn't follow fads and tried to do what made sense.

Another memory of Ondra is from the 2008 financial crisis. Rumors circulated that the Academy would be downsizing. Ondra's comment was fitting again. He said, "If they dissolve this place, I won't be able to find a job at all. I can't really do anything else." (MD)

Yet, he had excellent teaching abilities. He could hold attention during lectures – with his enthusiasm, jokes, and distinctive sense of humor. He had the ability to explain things gradually in logical connections, in a way understandable to everyone. When reading and refining colleagues' articles or projects, he almost always found logical leaps where the authors forgot to explain what seemed obvious to them but wouldn't be obvious to an uninformed reader.

Ondra was sincere. He never hesitated to play down his achievements, carefully explaining why he couldn't manage anything and didn't understand anything. Anyone who listened carefully heard the opposite. The attitudes of a strong and kind person with a firm and unwaveringly good nature, strengthened by a series of personal troubles and supported by a strong faith.

We never heard him gossip about anyone, radically condemn someone, elevate himself above others, or complain about anything. He could criticize only himself, and we felt that it was probably true that "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). Beneath the sometimes rough exterior was a kind heart and sometimes unbelievable humanity. We are surprised to discover where he helped and tried to contribute with his diligence and kindness, and surely, we don't know everything. Perhaps only he himself knew, if at all. "When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets ... so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:2-4).

Ondra unexpectedly passed away in the midst of diligent work on November 10, 2023. For those who would like to hear Ondra once again, we send a link to his lecture on magnetism from last year's online workshop on Jana. We won't hear this year's lecture.

Jiří Vackář, Michal Dušek