A few weeks ago we tragically lost a dear friend and enthusiastic supporter of CLIRSPEC, Vlasta Mašek. After defending his Ph.D. thesis on adducts of platinum complexes on DNA duplexes by Raman spectroscopy, at the Masaryk University in Brno, with Professor Brabec as his advisor, Vlasta was invited by Pavel Anzenbacher to continue his research at the Pharmacology Department of Palacký University and later the Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine. After joining the group in Olomouc in 2005, Vlasta quickly became a prominent figure in that young team.
His boundless appetite for knowledge and his enthusiasm for learning were genuine. When he asked you what you were working on, it was not out of politeness (after all, the traditional view of politeness was never Vlasta’s forte). He really cared. He listened to learn, always hungry for new things. Apparently, according to his good friends, he could tell you the brand of a farm tractor by the sound of its engine, fix your bike, or catch a snake, just as well as he could use the tiniest of scattered laser beams to characterize the binding of drugs, or identify cancerous tissue.
I first met Vlasta properly in Thailand at SPEC 2012 and he was really there to learn as much as possible about the field of bio-spectroscopy. We met again at SPEC 2014 in Kraków and soon after he came on one of his many visits to Manchester and a great friendship developed. We started a collaboration resulting in one of his postdocs, Jan “Honza” Palacký, spending six month with us. I visited Olomouc twice and he showed me unbelievable hospitality. I have such fond memories of those visits and meeting all his clinical colleagues who were so enthusiastic about bringing spectroscopy into the clinic. Vlasta persuaded one of his clinical colleagues to come to SPEC 2016 in Montreal and we put in our first grant proposal together. He sent students to our group and to the CLIRSPEC summer school which he also attend himself in 2018. He was always making jokes and was such a joy to be with. The highlight was of course the hike where be brought his plum brandy and made sure everyone was OK. It also included some remarkable moments with Vlasta and a group of wild fell ponies who seemed to instinctively know he was at one with nature. While most of us were a little nervous, Vlasta was their new best friend. Ponies have good judgement!
In his career, cut so tragically short, he published 20 original papers in major journals with 200 citations, mentored a number of graduate and postgraduate students, and only last year won a major national grant to develop Raman spectroscopy to characterize tumour tissue. He was very much on the way up and it is tragic that one of our most enthusiastic supporters is no longer with us.
But Vlasta was so much more than his work. His outgoing and friendly character made him a hub that connected people of all walks of life, who would not otherwise have met. His ability to make friends was unparalleled. He was larger than life, loved by all who knew him. It is difficult to accept that he will never phone me bursting with energy and enthusiasm with a new idea for a grant application and announcing that he is coming to Manchester to talk it through. Sadly, the last application is still under consideration, but will never come to fruition.
We are left with memories, and some memories they are! We will never forget and we will always be grateful for the time that we could share his friendship. He made our lives better and more fun.
Vlasta would have turned 45 last week. He is survived by his parents, his wife Jana and his two children, Michal (10) and Barbora (7). Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
I am indebted to Vlasta’s good friend Jan Strojil for information about Vlasta’s early career and helping to prepare this obituary.
His good friends in Olomouc have organised a fundraiser to support his young family in the difficult times that will no doubt follow. If anyone would like to contribute, the details are: https://paypal.me/pools/c/8rosp2RCCD