A tribute to Gunnel Anita Solheim
A talented person can’t help but be noticed, and so, in the context of International Forum (IF), Anita was discovered at her friend’s Christmas party in Oslo in 2003. This is where she met a long-term IF member, Kari Marie Semb Norby, who encouraged Anita to apply for the IF membership. After some time of reflection and with a hint of apprehension Anita did. These were the times when one of the resourceful IF founding mothers, Inger Malterud, ran our Office and handled the approval of Anita’s heart-warming application. Here comes a small excerpt:
‘One of my concerns has been whether I had the time for serving on a committee. I have been working as an associate professor at the Department of Nursing Education, Oslo University College, and at the same time been pursuing a Master in French at the University of Oslo.
If I were to run a course or demonstrate some craft, it would be sewing or some kind of introductory computer course, as I am fairly proficient in both these areas.
I have for instance used Power Point in my work as a teacher and I use digital photo in my presentations. One problem though, if I should run a course, is that I have only one sewing machine and one computer available at home.
Here you can see three examples of outfits that I have sewn for my grandchildren. I can also sew dresses, wedding dresses, and even suits and coats for ladies. When sewing, I use purchased patterns as I am not a professional tailor. I just love sewing.’
There is no doubt in my mind that the experienced Inger Malterud perceived Anita as a valuable ‘Christmas gift’ to our organisation; a genuine, professional woman with a rare combination of technical and creative skills, thoughtful, considerate, and generous with sharing her knowledge.
During all those years Anita has managed many tasks for IF in different capacities. She was a Leader of Monthly Meetings, worked in the Office and initiated a new Cooking Group and Book Group. She is now Leader of Activities and Courses and Leader of the Photo Group which she also initiated herself. Her latest contribution was an introductory Video about IF, made for the first Diplomatic Charity Event in 2019 and managing the IF’s current website since it was published in 2020.
To achieve her goals, Anita has shown dedication and passion to resolve challenges, always looking for the smallest details, always full of energy but never losing her inner peace. She is open-minded and has the ability to listen to others. These two important attributes evoke inspiration and facilitate good communication in a teamwork.
Anita comes from Brunskog in Värmland, a picturesque Swedish County bordering Norway. She was born in 1937 and raised on a family farm with cropland and animals.
Life on the farm was busy through every season and there was much to learn. As a curious little girl, Anita hung around the smithery and carpenter workshop, took part in sheep shearing, made fishing nets, spun flax and learned weaving. Already at the age of eleven, she learned sewing at the next-door farm and made her first self-tailored riding pants!
Sewing became her passion and Anita planned to become a fashion designer, tailoring her own models. And yet, under her mother’s influence she followed another vocation, which also became close to her heart. Nursing. As a child she suffered from allergies and was frequently treated in the local hospital, where she observed and admired the work of the nurses.
Soon after Anita finished Nursing School in Karlstad in 1958, destiny brought her one day to a concert followed by a dance party in a lovely, local park. It turned out to be the luckiest day of her life. She met Oddvar, a young Norwegian chemical engineer who was temporarily working in Sweden. Their harmonious dance steps put them on a path to the altar and to Oslo. Happy ever after, Anita and Oddvar have recently celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary and have three children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren!
Anita had a smooth transformation to life in Norway. She found Norwegians less formal than Swedes; and since the Värmlandic dialect is similar to standard eastern Norwegian, she picked it up very quickly. She got a job at Rikshospitalet and soon became aware of what young nurses did notlearn during their training, but which would have been very helpful to have learned. The idea of becoming a nurse educator had taken root in her mind.
The settling-down period was suspended when Oddvar received an offer to become Head of Norsk Hydro’s Sales Operations in New York. The family, with their two- year-old son, left for America. After a while, Anita applied for an American nursing license, which she got, and started working in a general hospital in New Jersey. The idea was to gain experience and learn how hospital staff work in the US.
It was in New York that Anita got her first opportunity to ‘act’ as a nursing instructor. Not exactly in an ideal setting… in a car, instructing Oddvar how to deliver their second baby Eva, whom she gave birth to before they arrived at the hospital.
Her will to become a nurse educator only increased over the years. Long after returning from the States, and when the children became more independent, the time was finally right for Anita to make her educational ambitions a reality. She enrolled in two nursing faculties, one in Oslo and one in Bergen, as she was determined to get the best out of both these excellent institutions. She overcame the practical obstacles and carried on for a few years, combining home duties and work while studying and taking frequent train trips to lectures in Bergen. She also enrolled in a French Master’s programme at the UiO, another deep-rooted dream.
At the same time, Anita’s family life was sporty and active. They travelled extensively, bought a home in the South of France, and crossed the Atlantic in their 42-foot Hallberg-Rassy sailboat, not just once, but three times!
The first time they sailed back and forth across the Atlantic was in 1989. Westbound, from Norway by Las Palmas to Barbados and eastbound from Bermuda via the Azores back to Norway.
Oddvar was an experienced seafarer but as Anita needed to improve her skills, he gave her a useful paperback to study, The Sea Wife’s Handbook. So, she packed her baking recipes and a sewing machine…
But above all, Anita had to learn to navigate the sea. To my surprise, she did not only manage to master her new ‘craft’; but when they crossed the Atlantic for the third time in 1995, she felt so at home onboard the yacht, that she wrote her thesis for Master of Science in Nursing, ‘Coping with Chronic Illness for Youth’ there and also had fun, by imitating Ursula Andress’ iconic scene from Dr. No.
The voyages across the Atlantic were the greatest adventures in Anita’s life. One of her ‘sea-wife’ tasks was keeping the log, and I have transcribed a few lines from it to show what Anita considers to be the most beautiful twenty-four hours of her life. It was during their second crossing in 1990, sailing eastbound with Oddvar and their son Harald. Anita was keeping watch:
“ 5/6 04 o’clock. Our position is 37°10′ north and 35°27′ west and we have 329 nautical miles left. The entire stretch from Bermuda to the Azores is 1820 nm. The wind stands still. The night is pitch black but the moon and the stars shine and reflect in the calm, mirror-like ocean. It looks unreal, as if the horizon is folding up and one is floating in the middle of the sky.
06 o’clock. The day starts like a big shiny and clear soap bubble with glitter of blue, purple and golden yellow. An absolutely magnificent sunrise. Along the boat those dangerous but beautiful jellyfish called Portuguese man-of-war drift in a row, transparent with hues of blue and purple. Flocks of northern storm petrels are soaring above the surface of the water. I also spot a sea turtle.
I am back on deck after a short nap. The dolphins are spinning around us, swimming in formation at the bow. They zigzag across the water, breathing through a round hole on the top of their heads. They dive deep down, then come back up and flip. They make noises and we whistle to entice them. They lie for a while on the side as if to listen; we think they talk to us.
Evening is approaching, and we sit in the cockpit celebrating the day singing and playing guitar. The sun sets, shining like a blood orange, the horizon turns purple, and the ocean in front of us glows in gold and red. Yes, I took a picture of it.
Among her many hobbies, photography has become Anita’s greatest passion, with flowers being the recurring theme. Roses are best-loved. And it is throughphotography that I was fortunate enough to get to know Anita closer. I joined her Forum Photo Group to learn about taking and processing digital photography and have been amazed at how much painstaking attention she gives in analysing our pictures, and how much desire she has to show us new techniques. No doubt, Anita is a passionate and devoted teacher at heart.
Accomplishments often come at a cost of other things. Anita misses more time for cinema and theatre. She would like to travel to the parts of Eastern Europe that she knows too little about. But she admits that she feels most alive when she launches and develops a new project. Her latest one is the transformation of one of the rooms in her house into a proper studio where she can scan and digitalise her vast collection of photos. She has bought an advanced photo-scanner for paper, as well as for negative and positive film, and already keeps on dusting the room!
In fact, Anita has two homes in which she feels truly at home: at Nesbru, Norway, and in Nice, France. But there is also Värmland, which she likes to visit in spring, if not for real, at least in her memory. The green landscape of gentle hills and calm lakes feels safe and always welcoming. This is where she developed her passion for discovering and learning new things, on the busy farm of her parents, and this love of knowledge has remained Anita’s driving force in life.
Anita’s Childhood Home in Sweden
I told Anita that we are fortunate that her countless paths of life crossed with ours, so that we can enjoy her pleasant company and benefit from her many skills and commitment. ‘And the other way round,’ Anita said, feeling glad to be part of our Forum.
Elizabeth Groth Kolby