George John Staller, professor emeritus of economics, died of cancer July 13 at his home in Ithaca. He was 82.
He taught at Cornell University for 49 years and as a visiting professor at Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia, for 15 years.
Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1927, Staller witnessed the invasion and occupation of his country by the Nazi Army in 1939 and the Soviet-backed seizure of power by the Communists in 1948. Under cover of darkness, on Christmas Eve 1949, Staller fled communist Czechoslovakia and crossed through the Russian-occupied zone of Austria before reaching Vienna. He found his way to a displaced persons camp in Salzburg, Austria, run by the U.S. military.
He attended Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., a college that prided itself on providing opportunities to Czech political refugees. After earning his B.A. from Hastings, Staller earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell.
Staller joined the faculty of Cornell's economics department in 1960. His research included studies that compared planned and free market economies, and analyses of industrial growth and industrial output within Soviet Eastern Europe. However, Staller was perhaps best known for -- and derived his greatest professional satisfaction from -- teaching popular undergraduate economics courses. He taught courses on the economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc and comparative economic systems as well as introductory macroeconomics courses.
The changes that swept across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s energized his career as teacher and mentor. In 1990 he began lecturing at Charles University, his alma mater, as a visiting professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He used this position on the faculty to help place numerous talented East European students in graduate schools in the United States.
For his work on behalf Charles University, on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of its founding, Staller was awarded a doctor honoris causa degree. For his dedication to Hastings College, he was recognized with an outstanding alumni award in 2002. The first annual George J. Staller Lectureship in Economics was delivered at Cornell in 2009 in honor of his teaching at Cornell.
Staller is survived by his wife of 53 years, Dorothy Duley Staller, and their four children Karen, Helen, Jane and Paul; his daughter-in-law, Deidre O'Byrne; and five grandchildren, Clara, Wade, Margaret, James and Christine.