An American who became a Czech. He enriched us all

04. February 2022

Pepper de Callier, an international expert in human resources and management, a coach, but above all a friend who accompanied us in all our endeavours, both professional and private, for more than twenty years, passed away on the last Saturday in January after a quick and incurable illness.

We are sincerely sorry, he will be sorely missed. But first and foremost to his wife Priscilla, his mother Patricia and many friends and colleagues.

It is not only the Czech Republic that loses a gifted, educated and cultured professional who enriched and influenced for good the development of modern Czech society, its many leaders, managers and talented students.

We cannot forget his calm, kind and always encouraging personality. All of this was represented by his beautiful, melodious voice, clear and understandable English, and later, endearing Czech.

With his every move and word, he made it clear that he cared about the people, our country and every individual. Pepper knew how to ask the right questions that made many of us think. Questions that often opened the way to self-knowledge or the solution to a difficult situation. He always valued wisdom and experience. He saw that despite all our talents, education and professional achievements, we remain fallible – and doubtful. He cheered on the successful and the gifted. And he encouraged those who were unsure of themselves.

He knew that if our hearts, thoughts, values and work were not in alignment, it would be difficult to succeed in the long run, let alone grow. We don’t remember him judging or evaluating others harshly in any way. He wanted to see the best in people, wanted to be moved and moved by their story. He always maintained his refinement and detachment, with a radiant smile and eyes. Perhaps it was his values of freedom, democracy, humanism, but also this human dimension that linked the paths of Václav Havel and Pepper as his advisor.

My husband, Zdeněk, had followed Pepper since the 1990s, when they were brought together by their shared experiences here as Americans in a changing Czech Republic. Pepper and Zdenek both found a new home in Prague. Zdeněk was involved in the financial and investor transformation of the Czech economy, while Pepper founded and developed the Prague Leadership Institute. It was a period of newfound freedom, opening to the world, first steps in capitalism and, of course, enormous social change. Both agreed that the Czech Republic was a country full of good people and undeveloped potential. That it is, despite all the mistakes and disappointments that the beginnings of social renewal inevitably brought, a beautiful country worth living, working and investing in. Not only did they both take advantage of this opportunity, but they also worked fully and responsibly to help this country and give something back to it in return for some of their success.

Fate allowed me to be a part of their dreams and determination. Pepper stood by our side as Zdenek and I formed our family foundation and started the Scholarship Program, supporting gifted Czech students through scholarships. Pepper was the head of the selection committee from the beginning and worked for many years not only to develop the program itself, but also to continue meeting and educating the talented students who came through it. They loved his humane and wise approach and sincerely respected him. I will never forget the powerful and emotional encounters I was able to witness. He taught me much and reached out to me in a deeply human way. More than once, I saw Pepper’s tears of emotion at the success of a student and the unconcealed joy of his parents, making me cry many times as well.

Pepper was also personally responsible for the creation of an important institution – the Central European branch of the globally respected Aspen Institute – which we initiated and founded together, and he was actively involved in its activities for many years. Both Pepper and my husband have always been true to their belief that quality leadership and governance growing out of solid foundations and clear values makes a lot of sense. They correctly sensed that substantive, depoliticized discussion of society-wide issues, conducted across the political spectrum, among leaders, managers, successful businessmen, philanthropists and other opinion leaders, was important for the Czech Republic. In doing so, they have never forgotten the importance of maintaining and strengthening the quality relationship between the Czech Republic and the United States.

In times when some Czech politicians and their media chose to dehumanize and intimidate my husband, Pepper was always a steadfast and unwavering support, a much-valued encouragement. He has always been convinced that our efforts – despite all the counter-pressures – are worthwhile and will ultimately bring positive results not only for us but also for the Czech Republic. I am glad that he was right and that his words are being heeded.

We are grateful that last year Pepper managed to finish his latest book in the trilogy “Common Sense Wisdom”, in which he penned many of the sentiments he used to enrich the lives of others. His books are a wise guide for those who want to think more deeply about their life and career. We are glad that they will continue to speak to us for a long time to come and continue to encourage us in all our endeavors.

Pepper used to say: “The surest way to do something is to just do it.” He added: “In today’s world, sometimes it’s better to stop thinking about things endlessly and start doing something. Mistakes can be eliminated along the way. But the most important thing is to move from thoughts to actions. Are you ready to start?”

In deepest respect and remembrance,

Michaela and Zdeněk Bakala

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