David Oddsson, LL.D., October 19, 2000

David Oddsson
Candidatus Juris, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iceland

David Oddsson was born in Reykjavik and brought up in modest circumstances in the small town of Selfoss and later in Reykjavik where his mother was a secretary. His earliest dreams were to become an actor and, indeed, he attended an acting school at night, and later, as a student at Reykjavik Grammar School from 1966 to 1970, supplemented his income by playing Father Christmas at children's balls. At the School, he displayed strong leadership qualities and the reputation of being a good-natured prankster! He became a leading actor in an absurdist play Ubu le roi which was televised. He was elected president of the School Union for 1969-1970.

In 1970 he began the study of law at the University of Iceland. During his studies, he worked for the Reykjavik Municipal Theatre for two years and, with two friends, Thorarinn Eldjarn who later became one of the best-respected writers and poets in Iceland, and Hrafn Gunnlaugsson who became a well- known film director, wrote and directed a popular radio program - a witty commentary on individuals and events in Iceland - as well as two comedies performed at the National Theatre to great acclaim. He translated a book by the Estonian-Swedish journalist Andres Kung on the Soviet oppression in the Baltic States. Active in student politics, Oddsson was the Parliamentary Correspondent for Iceland's leading newspaper Morgunbladid. He was copublisher of a journal of current affairs, Eimreidin, with several other young idealists who wanted to rejuvenate Icelandic politics, and was also in the Athletic Alliance, many of whom went on to serve in public office and become Oddsson's political allies and associates.

David Oddson received his law degree in 1976 and became deputy director and later director of Reykjavik's Health Insurance Corporation; but, from 1974, he became increasingly involved in political affairs. That year he became the youngest member of the City Council of Reykjavik, directed youth affairs and chaired the commission which planned semi-annual arts festivals where he came to know such international artists as Azhkenazy and Rostropovitch. He found time to write three plays, one based on his Selfoss years. From 1978 to 1982 he devoted his time as leader to restoring the Independence party in the City Council after it had lost its majority. In 1982 he was elected Mayor of Reykjavik and served as a very popular mayor for the next nine years making gains for the party in the elections of 1986 and 1990. Under his leadership, Reykjavik was transformed into the modern city that it now is. In 1986 he was the proud host to the Gorbachev-Reagan summit.

In 1991 ,Oddsson was elected Chairman of the Independence Party and led the party to regain its parliamentary position and form a coalition government with the Social Democratic party. The year in which he formed his first government was a year of dramatic changes in Icelandic politics: since then inflation, which had run higher than in all comparable countries and even as high as 100% in one year, was brought down to one of the lowest in the West (1-3%) ; the management of fisheries was converted into what is now recognized as one of the most efficient in the world; a reduction in corporate subsidies and privatization has produced significant economic growth which, since 1995, has been 5-6% a year. His party led in the elections in 1995 and 1999 and continues to lead a coalition government with the Progressive Party.

During all this, he continued to write: several psalms which have been set to music, and a collection of short stories which became a best-seller and received good reviews even from those who did not agree with him politically.

In 1970, David Oddsson married Astriur Thorarensen. Their only child, born in 1971, Thorsteinn Davidsson is, like his father, a lawyer. Astriur, a nurse by profession, has worked in the Icelandic health service for many years.

David Oddsson has maintained a committed interest in the connections between the Icelanders and Canadians of Icelandic origin in Canada and, particularly, in Manitoba.. In 1989 he visited Winnipeg and Gimli as Mayor of Reykjavik. During his service as Prime Minister, he has initiated and supported new and stronger ties between the two countries than ever before. He and his colleague, Halldór Asgrimsson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, have made all the important decisions affecting this area: in support of the New Iceland Heritage Museum to open soon at Gimli; the opening of the new Millennium Office of Iceland in Manitoba; the spear-heading of the magnificent one million dollar donation in support of the Icelandic Presence at this University; the decision to establish the first Icelandic Embassy in Canada; in the opening of the Icelandic Millennium celebrations in Ottawa last April (where two of the longest serving prime ministers in the western world met); and increased trade between Iceland and Canada and direct flights of Icelandair to Halifax - and soon, one might hope, to Winnipeg.

In early 1999, David Oddsson had served longer continuously as Prime Minister than any of his predecessors, and later this year will have served longer in total than any of them. Throughout his parliamentary career, he has been strong and active in discussions and debates on all kinds of legislation but above all matters related to constitutional affairs in which he is recognized as one of the leading experts in his country. In opinion polls, he is always voted the most popular politician in Iceland.