People always ask me, “What is your favorite part of Iceland?” Usually, people see me promoting Icelandic folklore, history, traditions, and current events. They see the thousands of photos of amazing landscapes, saga locations, Icelandic food, sculptures, buildings, and of course the sheep and horses. But my answer is always the same, “My favorite part of Iceland is the people. They always welcome me with open arms, kindness, and hospitality.”
During the 2013 Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga (Icelandic National League of Iceland) convention, I was seated at the same table as President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and I had a chance to have a short visit with her.
She became the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as President of a country. She was elected as the fourth President of Iceland in 1980 and continued to win the elections for a total of four terms (16 years). In 1996, she decided not to stand again for election and is very beloved by the Icelandic people and those around the world.
As a young woman in my 20s and early 30s during this time, I was so proud that the birthplace of my Icelandic ancestors had elected such a brilliant, compelling, and compassionate woman as leader of their country. It was so interesting to read about her various awards and involvement throughout the world. Over all these years, I have been inspired by her leadership and her integrity.
Forseti (President) Vigdís has worked hard and devoted energy to many initiatives including the Icelandic language, culture, human rights and values, the reforestation projects in Iceland, and is particularly interested in the children and young people in Iceland. Her accolades, awards, and contributions are many. You can read more about her here: http://vigdis.hi.is/en/node/326
Also in the audience at the convention was Prime Minister Sigmunður Davíð Gunnlaugsson. It was so fantastic to meet him again and experience his continued support of keeping the connections strong with our shared history. He visited North Dakota and also Gimli earlier this month, so I have been able to visit with him a few times and then we have had wonderful meetings here in Iceland. I will write more about him in the next posting. Here is a link where he is giving an interview on the Iceland TV.
Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson at the Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga Convention 2013
After my presentation at the convention, I noticed that both Sigmunður Davíð and Vigdís were smiling. Hopefully they approved of the words and presentation despite my deficiency in the Icelandic language.
It was very distressing to be so incompetent in this area, especially because Vigdís established the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland in 2001. One of her quotes is, “Languages are the key to the world”. This is a task for me …. Find the time to study the Icelandic language. You can find more information about the Institute here: http://vigdis.hi.is/en/about_institute
One of the greatest friends that North American Icelanders have is Almar Grímsson. He deserves an entire book written about his life. Because of him, my life has been enriched so very much.
Halldór Árnason giving Honorary Membership to the ÞFÍ to Almar og Atli. L-R: Halldór, Anna Björk, Almar, Atli, og Þrúður.
During this visit to Iceland, he organized a meeting with President Vigdís at her home and I was invited to attend. When I first arrived at the home of Vigdís, she said, “You are not 65! After hearing all about you and your accomplishments, I figured you would have to be at least 65 but you are so young!” I told her that I was 53 and that hopefully I will be able to accomplish more in this life.
The same words but with much more prominence are said about President Vigdís, she has accomplished so much in her life and she continues to work hard promoting wonderful projects, initiatives, and people with her enthusiasm and vision. It was such an honor to meet her and it was awe-inspiring to visit together at her home. Her message is one that has always resonated with me, “Look towards the future but remember the past.”
It is unusual to call the President of a country by their first name but that is the culture of Iceland. Everyone goes by their first name – even those of highest authority. Even though they are highly educated and intelligent, the leaders and people of Iceland that I have met are very genuine, humble, and sincere.
It was truly a joy … actually a gift …. and such an honor to meet President Vigdís. I send many thanks to Almar, Anna Björk, and Vigdís for this wonderful experience.
It is a day to remember forever.