Emilia "Milka" Royco, 96, who was a pillar of the local Czechoslovak community and a longtime volunteer at Georgetown University Hospital, died of a ventricular arrhythmia Nov. 11 at her home in Bethesda.
One of her passions was working at the hospital, which she did for more than 40 years. She worked in obstetrics and gynecology and most recently with one of the senior nursing administrators. She was at the hospital, on schedule as always, the day before she died.
Mrs. Royco was born of Slovak parents in what is now Slovakia but was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She grew up in the new republic of Czechoslovakia, attended business college and worked as a postmistress.
As the threat of war loomed in Europe, she was courted by a young American of Slovak descent who was living in Czechoslovakia. In September 1938, they left Czechoslovakia for St. Louis, her husband's hometown.
There she learned English and became leader of Brownie and Girl Scout troops. The girls called her "Sweetie," and members of one troop refused to disband upon reaching the required age limit. The troop received a special dispensation from Girl Scouts of America to stay together for several more years, said Mrs. Royco's son-in-law, Marvin Ott.
While in St. Louis, she also became locally renowned as a gourmet cook and hostess with a central European flair.
In 1960, she and her husband moved to Washington, and they became cornerstones of a large, active and professionally prominent Czechoslovak community in the area. The couple played a crucial role in assisting refugees escaping Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and helping them become situated in Washington.
"Sometimes they would arrive without a penny, and they would put them up and arrange for English classes," Ott said.
The couple also helped organize and establish the international Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, as well as a number of annual social events, including a Christmas bazaar and the Spring (Majales) Ball.
"Her home was a social center for this community," Ott said, with "an endless round of activities going on."
Mrs. Royco reestablished her reputation as a cook and hostess in Washington, entertaining numerous visitors from Europe, including a young playwright named Vaclav Havel, who later became president of what is now the Czech Republic. Her recipes attracted the attention of a Washington Post food editor and were printed in the newspaper. Her signature recipe was the dessert pastry Apricot Horns.
Along with her volunteer duties at Georgetown hospital, she nursed her husband and a brother during long, debilitating illnesses.
In her early years, she loved to dance. In later years, she became an expert gardener.
Her husband, Emil Royco, died in 1996.
Survivors include a daughter, Emiline Ott of Chevy Chase.