Quick Links

Remembering Ivan A. Vlasic (1926-2011)

It gives us great sadness to inform you that our former colleague Professor Emeritus Ivan Vlasic passed away on April 20, 2011, at age 84.

An obituary has been published in the Montreal Gazette, April 22, 2011. OBITUARY: IVAN ALBERT VLASIC 1926 - 2011. The Faculty of Law and the IASL have also posted an announcement on his passing.

We have received several moving notes and tributes from his fellow faculty members and his former students, which we are sharing below. If you wish us to add your testimonial, please maria [dot] damico [at] mcgill [dot] ca (email Maria d'Amico).


"We were all fortunate to have known Professor Vlasic as a brilliant, creative and fascinating human being who had made outstanding contributions not only to McGill, but to Air and Space Law and to the many students who came into contact with him."
- Justice Peter Jacobson, Federal Court of Australia


"Younger colleagues will not have known Professor Vlasic. He was a formidable man, whose early life was thrown into chaos by the second world war. He came to North America as a young man, after having seen the horrors of conflict in Eastern Europe. At McGill, Professor Vlasic was a towering figure in the Institute of Air and Space Law, and a mentor to many of its graduate students."
- Daniel Jutras, Dean of Law and Wainwright Chair in Civil Law


"Professor Ivan Vlasic emerged from Croatia, where he fought in the resistance against Nazi occupation. He escaped to North America after WWII, when the Communists took control of Yugoslavia. Dr. Vlasic received his LL.M. from McGill, then received his Doctorate from the Yale Law School, as a protégé of Professor Myers McDougal, a pillar in the field of International Law.

Professor Vlasic's scholarship, which includes three books, is among the most highly respected in the field of Space Law. He taught law at several Universities, including McGill. Students will remember him as a powerful force in the classroom. Professor Vlasic was appointed Director of McGill University's Institute of Air & Space Law in 1971.

Along with Professors Matte and Milde, he was among three accomplished Directors of the Institute who were refugees from communist control of Eastern Europe. Dr. Vlasic was a formidable and dynamic colleague, one who is missed by all who had the pleasure to spar with his sharp intellect."
- Paul S. Dempsey, DCL’86, Director, Institute of Air & Space Law and Tomlinson Professor of Global Governance in Air & Space Law


"My deep condolences."
- Philippe Witz, class of '93 (France)


"Prof. Ivan Vlasic was an unmatched pioneer in the field of space law. He started a graduate level course on Space Law, the first in world, at McGill University. He co-authored (with Myers S. McDougal and Harold D. Lasswell) the world’s first most comprehensive treatise entitled “Law and Public Order in Space” as early as 1963. This far-reaching study provided conceptual framework and philosophical basis for the law of outer space as we know today. He has been my close mentor for over 30 years and I will very much miss him."
- Professor Ram Jakhu, LLM’78, DCL’83, Institute of Air & Space Law


"The news of the death of Ivan Vlasic was saddening. I was one of the Class of 1963/4, when Ivan was newish to the Institute staff. He was at first a rather forbidding figure, but we soon saw past the exterior, and he was one of the reasons why four of us, Steve Doyle, Paul Larsen Nandasiri Jasentuliyana and myself ended up heavily involved in Space Law.

I suggested as one of my term papers 'who owns the Moon'. His response was a growl. 'There's more interesting things.' Then a smile. 'Have you looked at radio frequencies?' I did, and was intrigued. And so my interest in that area began. In fact I have just delivered a text on the ITU and UPU to my publisher and was looking forward to sending Ivan a copy in due course.

I was also grateful for his reference when I applied for the Chair of Public Law at Aberdeen in 1973. It was generous (things sometimes leak) and living up to it was a stimulus over the years especially when meetings and administration work proliferated. Ivan's personal history was remarkabled. To add a little detail, how many know that while he was a student in Montreal, he helped maintain himself by labouring, helping to build the foundations of Place Ville Marie?
- Professor Frank Lyall, LLM'65, U. of Aberdeen School of Law (Scotland)


"That is sad news, but I take comfort that he had a great life at McGill. I liked him: he was full of personality and he loved a debate."
- Andrew J. Hatnay, LLM'95 (Canada)


"When Myers McDougal, Harold Lasswell and Ivan Vlasic published their seminal "Law and Public Order in Space" in 1963, it was the first book I read after graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law. My wife and colleague Ann had recently graduated from the George Washington University with a degree in sociology, and it was she who recognized the unique socio-philosophical foundations of the treatise, and its importance to my own work. I carefully read the book, all 1200 plus pages, three times! I knew about McDougal and Lasswell, but the third co-author, Vlasic, I knew nothing about at all. I researched his background, which resulted in large part in my leaving the Federal Aviation Agency in Washington, DC, and pursuing the Institute of Air and Space Law's LL.M. program.

Ivan's impression upon me and influence on my subsequent work in space law (1) was reflected in his assertive and strong opinions that always respected my own, albeit they frequently were at odds; (2) showed a willingness to challenge opposing views with great vigor and strength, and then listen to the responses very carefully with an open mind; (3) resulted in his insisting that he serve as my faculty advisor, both for my rather controversial LL.M. dissertation and also for the first Doctor of Civil Laws degree awarded by the Institute; (4) reflected his wry and frequently blunt humor that challenged my own bluntness and style; and (5) led to his extraordinary insight freely given in later years to help me with several difficult cases I was handling in the former Yugoslavia.

All existence is transitory, of course, so I shall neither miss nor grieve at the passing of Ivan. I shall, however, never hesitate to celebrate his life as embodying one of the most challenging, instructive, and admired individuals to influence my own life, personally as well as professionally."
- George S. Robinson, LLM’67, DCL’70 (USA)


"Ivan Vlasic was one of my favorite teachers. I remember his mischievous smile. He was a real character."
- Peter Humele, LLM'96 (Canada)


"I only learned the passing of Professor Vlasic from the Fall’s issue of Focus: Law/Droit, which I received not too long ago. Close to half a century’s acquaintance laid to rest at once with great reluctance and those years of my stay at IASL were cast down in a flood of fresh green memory. I was one of those foreign students pursuing a graduate degree in early 1960s. His burly frame, unique accent, and heavy, steady footsteps gave students the impression of an imposing figure. His lecture on space law, often buttressed with intimidating questions, was given in a claim-oriented perspective, typical of McDougal-Lasswell associate’s philosophical vein.

He cared about his students and often asked after their work. His kindness benefited me on many occasions. I still recall those numerous meetings that he offered to discuss my thesis. Often an hour appointment that he kindly set aside out of his busy schedule turned into a long meeting that covered not only the substance of the text but also the technicality of legal writing. He has a unique pedagogical method of supervising thesis-writing.

Often, during the discussion, he would ask me through a Socratic dialogue, “What is your stance? Why is it tenable?” He was keen to students’ response to his demand on originality of thinking. Whenever he spotted a familiar statement through his inquisitive eyes, he would casually suggest that a footnote in proper format be given to the source paraphrased. My long-time interest in legal citation was inspired by his intellectual integrity at that time, which eventually led me to author a book on the subject for Canadian law students during the time when I was undertaking a teaching assignment at the Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa – a position that I landed through his strong recommendation to the late Professor Thomas G. Feeney, the then Dean of the Section.

Professor Vlasic has a visible scar on his left arm that bore traces of coarse work, serving for a long time as a symbol of perseverance for me. The scar was caused by a wound he suffered while he was hired as a laborer to lay the foundation of a high-rise at the foot of Peel Street. At that time he had to work to earn a living in support of his graduate studies. The weight of financial hardship he endured and later, through his unremitting efforts, the degrees he earned from IASL and Yale served as a living role model during my years at McGill."


         O Ivan,
   in searching for a legal regime
   in outer space, in which the known
   is the exception, and the unknown
   becomes the norm, you taught me
   at Chancellor Day Hall an all truism:
   academic excellence through originality,
   intellectual integrity through honesty.
   This you will be remembered,
   while you have forever disappeared.

- Chin Shih Tang. Class of 1963, LL.M.'67


"All in all, a good life well lived, I think. He was one of the highlights of my year at the IASL and he was very popular amongst all the DOD [US Dept of Defense] students over the years."
- Kevin Spradling, LLM'89 (USA)

He was indeed a formidable professor, who made us (or me, at least) think and substantiate my positions, especially in regard to the geostationary orbit and Colombia's claims to sovereignty over parts of it!

I also had the privilege of having Prof. Myres McDougal as my International Law Professor at New York Law School, and thanks to his giving me a good reference, I fulfilled my dream of studying at the IASL with Prof. Vlasic.

Prof. Vlasic also had a tender side, which he didn't let many people see. I remember one day, over coffee at the Student Union, he was talking about his cat Spoofy, who would go to the railway station and wait for him. Spoofy would then walk home, along the walls, while Vlasic stayed on the sidewalk... He spoke of Spoofy with great admiration and tenderness. And as a cat lover myself, my view of Prof. Vlasic changed that day; he endeared himself to me with his little story of his cat... He may have been formidable, but he was also very human!

May he rest in peace!
- Sylvia Ospina, LLM'88 (USA)


On behalf of the Cologne Institute of Air and Space Law, let me express our great sadness on the passing of Ivan Vlasic. Those, like me, who had the privilege of having Professor Vlasic as a teacher will remember his sharp intellect and sometimes provocative – always thought-provoking – statements in class. He was a peculiar personality and certainly one of the great figures of space law. Our condolences go to the family of Professor Vlasic and to the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University.
- Professor Dr. Stephan Hobe, LLM'87 (Germany)


I am very saddened by this news. I had been thinking of Ivan lately, and hoping that I might see him when I come up to Montreal for the aviation liability conference next month.

Ivan was a great influence on my professional life. As my DCL thesis supervisor, he encouraged me to stay away from writing yet another thesis on the Warsaw Convention, notwithstanding that air carrier liability was something I was very interested in.

Upon hearing that I had worked in the area of aviation insurance as an articled clerk in South Africa, he was extremely encouraging – make that insistent – that I wrote my thesis on aviation insurance, which is what I did.

I am now working on a 4th edition of my book on Aviation Insurance, for which I have only Ivan to thank for his encouragement, insight and support. He was a true mentor and friend and I will never forget him.
- Dr. Rod Margo, DCL'79 (USA)


I am saddened by the departure of one of my favorite teachers. He was a golden mean of military and civilian persona – a distinguishing and imposing personality who would involve every student in his class and in his lucid ways make sure that every bit of what was taught was understood, particularly with international students. He will be profoundly missed.
- Ajum Jawaid Khan, LLM'83 (Pakistan)


I first got to know Prof Vlasic in 1988, when I was a student at the Institute. I learnt a lot about the practical applications of public international law from him. Those lessons are still with me today. Later, I got to know Prof Vlasic as a friend. I will miss my teacher, my friend.
- Jitu Thaker, Technical Officer/Facilitation, ICAO.


Prof. Ivan Vlasic was a giant in the field of space law. I first met him in 1963 when I was a student at the Institute of Air & Space Law. He had just joined the faculty of the Institute from Yale after publishing what was then considered as the most outstanding publication on space law: "Law and Order in Space" with Prof. Myers McDougal legendary International Law Professor. He was an excellent academic who demanded the best of his students and did not suffer fools easily.

But, yet, he was someone who by nature was mild mannered and humane in his dealings. I had the privilege of being one of the first students to write a thesis under his direction. That brought us closer in our relationship, though he was most exacting in demanding you produce the best that you could. Several years later, I had the honor to request him to be a consultant to the United Nations in directing the preparation of an intergovernmental report on the possible establishment of an international monitoring agency for arms control in space.

On the basis of his outstanding work in regard to that project, he continued as an expert with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) assisting several workshops and publications relating to space activities. During all those years, he provided incisive advice that assisted the United Nations in advancing the cause of peaceful uses of outer space. Later, he advised the Canadian Delegates to the United Nations on disarmament and space affairs.

He was equally admired by diplomats and academicians that he came into contact with in his important work at the UN. A man of humility, but a person of intellectual superiority, an author, teacher and above all a fine human being has forever been lost to the international space community. I consider it a great honor to have known a person of his stature, and I along with his family and friends will dearly miss him.
- Nandi Jasentuliyana, LLM'65, President Emeritus, International Institute of Space Law (IISL). Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna and Director United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.


I'm sorry to hear about the passing of Prof Vlasic. I remember him to be a good lecturer and quite formidable in his views and dislikes; this was perhaps formed by the early difficult years of his life.
- Gerald Koo, LLM'89 (Singapore)


I was a student of Professor Vlasic in 1994-1995. I was warned by former students that he would give me a hard time because I am Colombian, and Professor Vlasic was always making jokes about Colombians. Well, he did make the jokes, and at some point I was the focus of attention in his class. But I never felt offended by his remarks, and we always had friendly intellectual debates.

The last time I spoke with him, I told him that someday I would go to the Corfu Strait, between Turkey and Greece, because in that place an international incident took place - with very important consequences in International Law - and it was a recurrent subject in his classes.

In 2007 I traveled to Istanbul, but could not reach the Corfu Strait. I wanted to take a picture of the place and send it to Professor Vlasic, but I missed that promise. I am sure that I will go back there some day, and although I will not be able to tell Professor Vlasic about it, I will think of him, and remember our conversations.
- Jorge Gongora, LLM'99 (Colombia)


I considered myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend some time near Prof. Vlasic. He was definitely Jack of all trades master of all. I feel deeply sorry that he is no longer with us.
- Raanan Zefania, class of 93-94 (Israel)


On behalf of IASL graduates in Indonesia, we wish express our condolences to the family of our beloved Professor Ivan Vlasic. We remember him as a humble person, straightforward in expressing his opinion, and yet he understood our abilities, who were students from developing countries.

Goodbye Professor, we will always remember you.
- K. Martono, LLM'80; Yasidi Hambali, LLM'83; Pranata Iswandi, LLM'85; Wahyuni Bahar, LLM, 92; Adi Cahyo, LLM'86.


I would also like to express my deep sympathy to the IASL and to the family of Prof. Vlasic. Even though I had not met him for quite some time, I still remember him for his strong personality and conviction. May his journey to the Eternal East be enlightened.
- Agustin Vrolijk, LLM'87 (Aruba)


Very sad indeed. He was my favourite professor.
- George T. Hacket, LLM'92 (Germany)


Those are really very sad news... Prof. Vlasic cannot go. With his sheer energy and his extraordinary resource to face anything that was coming his way, how could he leave us like that? Sophie and I are really sad about his passing away. I have still his voice, his unique accent and rhetoric in memory - just like if it was yesterday. Our thoughts are with him and his family.
- Frederic Nordlund, LLM'88 (USA)


How sad to learn this. Professor Vlasic was a force of nature. He was courageous and generous enough to be brutally honest, and it made knowing him both a challenge and a privilege. I feel proud to have had him as my thesis supervisor, and sorry that I never got a chance to tell him so.
- Sophie Savin Nordlund, LLM'93 (France)


I am deeply saddened by the news of passing of Professor Vlasic. It was indeed an honour to have been a student in his space law class, and I always have fond memories of his energetic style and personal stories, and of his thought-provoking space law cases. Deepest condolences to the family Vlasic.
- Darius Nikanpour, IASL Class of 1999 (Canada)


It is with great sadness to learn that Professor Ivan Vlasic passed away. I was aware that he had been ill for some time, but his death came as quite a shock to me. He was a formidable man who, aside from being quite opinionated at times, was an excellent professor at the Institute. I was invariably impressed by his way of teaching. I will always remember him as a prominent scholar to whom many graduates of the IASL are indebted.

Press clipping from a Dutch newspaper about a visit to Air Canada by LLM class of 1969 students

I particularly remember a visit to Air Canada with our class. A Dutch newspaper even reported this with an article with a picture taken on that occasion. I kept it throughout the years and I send you a copy of it. Ivan Vlasic stands at the back next to me. It is quite amazing to realize that he must have been about 45 years of age and to my mind at the time he was quite old (!!!), whereas I am 70 now – twenty years older than Ivan was back then.

Ivan Vlasic's death is a blow to the Institute as well which he served for so many years in an exemplary fashion.
- Gerrit de Boer, LLM'69 (Netherlands)


I remember Professor Vlasic with considerable affection – he was my tutor for my thesis and he was invariably helpful and supportive. He served the Institute and its students very well.
- Jean Ritchie, LLM'69 (Great Britain)


Ivan Vlasic's deep intellect, rich experience, stirring anti-totalitarian instincts and inspiring teaching abilities are a shining part of my sojourn in the Faculty of Law at McGill and that of many confreres who were all privileged to be taught by, argue with, and be inspired by this wonderful man. I went onto practice some public international (human rights) law as I always planned, and Professor Vlasic's influences on my work in this area were beneficial, indeed pivotal, throughout.
- Andrew Orkin, LLB, BCL 1988 (Hamilton, Ontario ON)

Classified as