Suvi Rihtniemi's speech at the memorial ceremony of former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri
Jukka, Katju and your families,
the relatives of former Prime Minister Harri Holkeri
President Koivisto and Mrs Koivisto,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A great humanist. A wise and well-read man.
As a young man, Harri Holkeri used these words to describe Lauri Aho, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Uusi Suomi. Aho was highly regarded by Holkeri. Although Harri was awarded the Finnish honorary title of valtioneuvos in 1998, he had long ago grown into the kind of man he admired in Aho.
Harri Holkeri was a great humanist. A wise and well-read man. An honoured statesman.
He was also a passionate politician and a self-sacrificing shaper of society. What would better reflect his life and the transitory nature of all things, than the following verses from the poem
Hymn to Fire by Eino Leino:
Short times to us allotted till our urn.
Living, like furnace flames then let us burn,
High let us in the fire be ascending,
Earth stays below, the spirits heavenward tending.
The public image of important statesmen, like Harri Holkeri, often diverges from their fundamental nature as people and how they are perceived by kith and kin. To some degree, this was also true of Holkeri, even if many of his great qualities were in the public eye, especially in the last ten years. Reliability, honesty and patriotism are among his qualities that deserve another mention. To the Finnish public, Harri Holkeri represented a patriot of deep integrity.
On this occasion, I would also like to say a few words about Harri as a private person as we, his close friends, remember him.
I had the pleasure of meeting Harri when I was a child in the 1960s; although back then he was Uncle Harri to me. Harri was then a close colleague of my father, Juha Rihtniemi. Accordingly, he often visited our home in Helsinki's North Haaga district. On even more frequent occasions, I listened in the evening to the long, eager phone conversations between him and my father. These took place after their long days spent promoting the ideas of the National Coalition Party.
Advocating such ideas meant everything to them, as did the ideas themselves; they paid no regard to the hours sacrificed. This was the beginning of the conservative partys transformation into a modern, dynamic party of the centre-right. It was also the start of the National Coalition Partys rapid ascent to becoming Finland's largest non-socialist party.
At the time, Harri Holkeri was young, having recently graduated with a Masters degree in Political Sciences. In 1960, he married Liisa. Their first son, Jukka, was born a few years later, followed by the birth of their daughter, Katju. Harri and Liisa were happily married for almost 51 years, until Harri passed away.
My mother, Anna-Liisa Rihtniemi, spoke of charity and caring for others as an integral part of Harris character, philosophy and way of life. As a friend, Anna-Liisa used the following words to describe Harri and the Holkeri family:
"Harri was always an exemplary father, both relaxed and approachable. Of course, it is a pity that his and our family had so little free time. We remember our acquaintance with the Holkeri family as a happy time. Encounters between Juha and Harri were always characterised by good humour."
Harri also made time for the children, always asking us how we were getting on. From that time I remember him as someone whose somewhat boyish nature did not prevent him from awaking trust in those he met.
Harri Holkeri was suitably proud of his own childhood home and background. He was born in Oripää in Southwest Finland, but his family soon moved to Kuhmoinen in Central Finland. They later moved to Toijala in the Häme region of Southern Finland, where he passed his matriculation exams at Toijala upper secondary school.
Harri described his childhood home in the following words: "It was a modest home, as befitted a policeman with conservative political views. But these were moderate, not extreme, conservative views. This is something I have inherited from my parents."
The values and virtues of his childhood home remained integral to his adulthood.
Wishing to shield his family from media attention, Harri was a political actor who did not unveil their private lives in public. Their absence from the public arena did not indicate a distant family relationship; on the contrary.
Holkeri was a long-serving chairman of the Snellman Foundation, which is close to the National Coalition Party. In recent years, I saw most frequently him at meetings of this foundation. Prior to the meetings, held at the Finnish Club, Harri warmly gave the latest tidings on his wife Liisa, and his children and grandchildren.
In his busiest years, it was always clear how much he looked forward to spending time with his family. He used to say, in defending the freedom of others, you lose your own. By this, he referred specifically to the problem of dividing his time. I have the strong impression that he always received vital support from his home and family.
Holkeri also drew energy from exercise. Even when past his prime, he was an enthusiastic skier and jogger, and loved bustling around his summer cottage in Kotkajärvi. Upon growing older, he took up golf as a more leisurely pursuit.
I wonder if many people are aware that Holkeri has skied 50 kilometres faster than Veikko Hakulinen in the latter's famous gold medal race in Holmenkollen of 1952? Even accounting for developments in equipment, this reveals his long-standing excellent physical condition, despite the pressures he faced.
The saying think global, act local did not quite apply to Harri Holkeri, or at least not directly. This is because he both thought globally, and acted globally, nationally and locally. He was a passionate, influential person who did much for his home town too.
In 198187, Harri Holkeri served as Chairman of Helsinki City Council. He left this position upon becoming Prime Minister of Finland. From 196987, Holkeri was a member of the City Council. As a young Council member, I had the pleasure of observing Harri Holkeris dedicated, efficient work across party lines as a valued chairman. He provided an outstanding model for us, the younger generation.
In Helsinki, urban planning issues were close to Holkeris heart. Perhaps this interest was sparked as early as the time he prepared his Masters thesis, with the title Political spaces in the Helsinki suburbs.
In a visionary manner, Holkeri termed the Töölö Bay area currently under construction in Helsinki, the Senate Square of our own time. Unfortunately, he did not live to see its completion. Next Wednesday, the new Helsinki Music Centre will be opened in Töölö Bay. The first song to be played there will be the Finlandia hymn composed by Jean Sibelius. On this occasion, its words touchingly bring to mind the memory and spiritual heritage of my dear friend Harri:
Oh, Finland, rise and lift your head to glory
and proudly wear your mem'ries' shining crown!