Olafur had an exceptionally long career as the National Archivist of Iceland. He started in the office 1 January 1985, shortly after his 37th birthday. Nordic cooperation played an important part in his long and distinguished tenure from the very beginning. Iceland was in charge of the 15th Nordic Archives Conference in the year 1987, the first time that it had been given this responsibility. The Conference was to be held in the small town of Laugarvatn, with a population of around 200 people, some 80 kilometers outside Reykjavik, and this location presented a great challenge. However, Olafur rose to the challenge with all the effectiveness to be expected from a future Chief Scout of Iceland (1995-2004). The second time Iceland hosted the Conference was in Reykjavik 2003.
Nordic cooperation was always close to Olafur's heart. And there is truly a wide range of Nordic activities and events, starting from the annual meetings of the National Archivists to Nordic Archives Day, benchmarking comparisons, meetings of various working groups, the common Nordic publication Nordisk Arkivnyt (since 1956) and - a development that was very close to Olafur's heart - the Nordic Archives Academy. The Academy has two annual expert-sessions, rotating in the Nordic countries. The National Archivists decide the topics and the National Archivist who has served in the office the longest time is the President. And of course Olafur was the President for a very long time.
Photo by Jussi Nuorteva
Nordic cooperation has always been very easy and relaxed. No formalities or signatures are needed, it is enough simply to have the agreement of the National Archivists. And there is a collegial spirit of doing things together, which Olafur did much to foster. And of course he was a cheerful person who was happy to share his views and his life with his colleagues.
Olafur also played an increasingly prominent role in the International Council on Archives. In the 1990s he gained valuable experience as Chair of the Membership Committee (1994-96), Member of the Committee on Legal Matters (1995-96), and Member of the Sub-Commission on Communication (1997-2000). In 2000 he stepped forward and offered to organize the CITRA in Reykjavik the following year at comparatively short notice. The 2001 CITRA, coming as it did so soon after the attacks of 11 September, was a tremendous success and gave ICA much needed stability at a time of great international uncertainty. Many other hosts would have been content to rest on their laurels after meeting such a demanding challenge, but Olafur continued to serve ICA with distinction, firstly as Chair of the Information Technology Committee (2000-04), and then as the first Chair of the Programme Commission (2004-08), which pioneered a bottom-up approach to the development of ICA Projects. As Chair of the Progamme Commission, he was ex officio a member of the Executive Board. By 2008, when he attended the Kuala Lumpur Congress, he was very much an elder statesman of ICA, and he continued to offer knowledgeable and disinterested advice as a member of the CITRA bureau (2008-11). In September 2010 he received the supreme accolade of the organization when he was appointed an ICA Fellow at the Annual General Meeting in Oslo. As a great internationalist, Olafur was very alert to cultural sensitivities and he had an unrivalled capacity to defuse potentially tense situations with his unique brand of humour.
In the Nordic countries and throughout the global ICA network, many archivists will really miss Olafur as a true friend. We shall not see his like again.
Olafur relaxing with Asbjorn Hellum in Reykjavik 2010 during the National Archivists meeting...
ICA Congress Kuala Lumpur 2008
ICA Congress Kuala Lumpur 2008