In Memoriam:  Larry Heligman

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing in August 2014 of Larry Heligman.  He worked for the United Nations Population Division for over 25 years and was serving as one of its two Assistant Directors at the time of his retirement in 2006.  Over his long career, Larry made several significant contributions to the study of population.


While working for the International Statistical Programs Center of the US Census Bureau, Larry was part of the team that developed one of the first sets of computer programs for demographic analysis, programs that became widely used by population analysts all over the world.


Intrigued by the regularities in mortality patterns, Larry collaborated with John Pollard in devising a general model for the age pattern of mortality, which became known as the Heligman-Pollard model and is still in use today. 


Upon joining the United Nations Population Division in the late 1970s, one of Larry’s first assignments was the production of life table models for developing countries.  He was a key developer of the methodology used in producing the United Nations Model Life Tables for Developing Countries, and he worked diligently with colleagues in assembling, evaluating and adjusting the life tables used as the basis for the derivation of the final models.  The resulting UN Model Life Tables are still used by the Population Division in producing the UN world population projections.


As an active member of a Committee on the Determinants of Mortality and Life Expectancy set up by the IUSSP in the late 1970s, Larry collaborated in the organization of a seminar on the collection and analysis of mortality data held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1981 and co-edited a volume on the proceedings of the seminar, entitled Methodologies for the Collection and Analysis of Mortality Data, which summarized the state of the art at the time and is still a useful reference on data collection and methodological issues.


Another of Larry’s major contributions was the development of the mortality estimation package known as MORTPAK, which is still in demand.  Always concerned with modeling mortality realistically, Larry pioneered the incorporation of models of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the preparation of the population estimates and projections produced by the Population Division. 


Soon after Larry became Chief of the Population Estimates and Projections Section, the world witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany.  All of those changes had to be reflected in the estimates and projections produced by the Section, a challenging task carried out seamlessly under Larry’s leadership.


The United Nations population projections produced under Larry’s guidance were a key input for the preparation of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and served to establish the demographic goals included in the ICPD Programme of Action, which would later be reflected in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.


As Assistant Director of the Population Division, Larry supervised the substantive preparatory work for the annual sessions of the Commission on Population and Development, the main intergovernmental body of the United Nations dealing with population issues.  Larry devoted his energies to drafting, reviewing and editing the documentation that the Commission used as the basis for its deliberation on topics that varied from the interrelations among population, the environment and development to the analysis of internal migration and urbanization.


Larry is remembered fondly by his former colleagues and the many demographers with whom he collaborated over the course of his professional life.  He was a very capable technical demographer, a good communicator, a loyal friend, a mentor to many younger colleagues and a valued professional.  When he retired, he decided to devote his time to his family and his congregation.  His loss is deeply felt.


Hania Zlotnik, former Director of the UN Population Division and former Vice-President of the IUSSP

Jacques Vallin, Honorary President of the IUSSP

John Wilmoth,  Director of the UN Population Division