In Memoriam BertJan Heij

In his work and his personal life BertJan Heij remained true to himself: an honest, hard-working man, attentive to those around him, and was genuine on all occasions.

I first met BertJan when we both worked at the National Institute for Drinking Water Supply (RID). Bertjan was a hydrologist by training and played a key role in assessing the water resources in the Netherlands, especially groundwater resources. His strength was to work together with people from different backgrounds, finding solutions for cooperation and creating shared outcomes that were more than the individual contributions of people.

Although we continued working for the institute and its successor, the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), we lost track of each other for a number of years until he became my successor as the Programme Manager in the large acidification research programme in the Netherlands, working alongside the Programme Director, Toni Schneider. There he got his taste for international cooperation and, with his never-ending enthusiasm, the programme was completed successfully. This led him to the challenge of the large climate change research programme, again with Toni Schneider as Programme Director.

Institutional changes (RIVM and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency separated) made it difficult to run large cooperative research programmes, and BertJan struggled with the bureaucracy unavoidably associated with government institutions. More and more he became concentrated on the international cooperation of the IPCC, where he became a lead author for assessment reports. During the same period we had the opportunity to work together on environmental assessments in various provinces in China with a small group of Dutch experts. He could always be recognized there towering above the local people. I can also recall certain occasions when BertJan would surprise us, e.g. by spontaneously moving behind a piano in a hotel and starting to play.

BertJan and I decided at the same time to leave the institute in an early retirement, with the prospect of a number of interesting assignments ahead. Bertjan first continued working with the IPCC before he joined me at the Co-operative Programme on Water and Climate (CPWC) as well as working on some additional assignments for Dutch consultancy firms and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Indonesia. His contribution to the last World Water Development Report is also notable.

Only six months ago, right after a couple of weeks of joint work in Indonesia in September 2009, BertJan did not feel well. When I returned somewhat later to the Netherlands I found out that he had been diagnosed with cancer. I can only remark the enormous fortitude that both he and his wife showed during the months that followed, remaining optimistic throughout heavy treatments and depleting strength.

BertJan died April 30th, 2010 at the age of 63. We wish his wife Gonnie, his daughters Petra and Margreet, and friend Martijn, the strength to continue without him. We will remember him as a good friend and colleague. BertJan made a positive impression on so many lives, and I'm sure I speak for many in expressing my sense of privilege to have known him. It is certainly true what his family wrote on the announcement: “He enriched our lives”.


On behalf of many colleagues and friends,
Ton Bresser