In memoriam: Hans Kautzky

Hans Kautzky

Fermilab retiree Hans Kautzky, 93, died on June 27 at the home of his close friend Nancy McGuire in Geneva, Illinois, just miles from Fermilab, where he was an engineer and team leader for over two decades. He was born Jan Kaucky in Czechoslovakia in 1926 and lived in Vienna and Prague with his parents and sister until World War II separated them, when he was a teenager. He was barred from school in 1942 and then deported to a labor camp in Bystrice/Beneschau, from which he escaped. His mother was sent to Terezin/Theresienstadt and his father to Postoloprty/Postelberg. They were reunited after the war.

Hans studied and worked in Eastern Europe and immigrated to the U.S. in 1964. His first position was at Princeton University, where he stayed until 1970. He met and moved with his wife, Eva, to Illinois to work at the University of Chicago and then Fermilab. Their daughter, Mira Kautzky, matriculated at the inaugural class of the Fermilab Playgroup Co-op.

Hans thrived in solving the mechanical problems of gravitational and nuclear physics. He often said he felt he was being paid to play at Fermilab and then postretirement at the University of Pisa, Italy. He also held many U.S. patents in diverse fields of engineering.

Hans loved particle physics, bright sunshine, bicycles, cars, motorcycles, boats, planes and especially gliders. He wrote in all capitals, wore jeans through his 80s and had a firm handshake. He enjoyed classical music and art, especially Etruscan art. He had a long and dear relationship with Fermilab employee no. 11, resident artist Angela Lahs Gonzales. They shared a love of art, nature and the German language.

He traveled all over the world, taking Mira with him on school holidays. On her visits to West Chicago, they would ride to Fermilab between the corn fields, his streamlined bicycle without gears or brakes. Parkinson’s disease struck in his 80s and robbed him of the ability to write to his friends around the world, many of whom have drawers full of his correspondence. For four years before the pandemic, he lived at The Holmstad in Batavia, Illinois, warmly embraced by the community there.

His older sister, Margaret Zicha, died in New Jersey in 2016. He is survived by his ex-wife Eva Ehrlich, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near their daughter Mira Kautzky, son-in-law Keith Thomas Flaherty, and granddaughters Hazel Ehrlich Flaherty and Ruby Kautzky Flaherty.

Remembrances may be left by friends and family on his memories webpage, to which we are adding more photographs and original documents. If desired, donations in Hans’s honor can be directed to the Pushing the Envelope Farm, Fermilab Friends for Science Education, The Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art or The Oriental Institute.