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Thomas Thesleff

Born 31 March, 1951, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1975 (General History), University of Helsinki

Evli Investment Bank, Managing Director 1985–1994, Chairman of the Board, 1994–2006 and Board Member 2006-

Acting lector, Minervaskolan, 1975–1977
Expert, Oy Hackman Ab, 1977–1978
Copywriter, Interplan Oy, 1979
Regional manager (France), Finnfacts ry 1979–1985
Stockbroker, Oy Bensow Ab, 1984–1985

Military rank, Lieutenant (senior grade)
Honours: Knight of the White Rose of Finland, 1st class

Written by Thomas Thesleff and Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta (ed.)
Translated by John Calton.

My best memories of the University of Helsinki

When I think of my time at the University a whole range of memories come to the fore. First of all of course was the registration organised by the rector Erkki Kivinen, an unassuming but nevertheless serious occasion. In my day teaching was still very traditional, one lecture after the other and undergraduates had to work out the instructions for themselves. The tutor system was in its infancy, and frankly it did not help very much. Nor did everything go to plan: I was the only one to write a candidate’s dissertation. That is to say I flunked the mother tongue exam for the lower degree! This quite unexpected setback became something of a cause celebre, but it helped spur me on to greater things.

There were a few occasions that stood out from the routine: Teivas Oksala’s lectures on Virgil and the attempt on the life of the Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor. The former, in terms of its educative value, was a marvellous experience, and the latter brought the tensions of the outside world into a packed Great Hall in the Main Building. In the former there were just a few Latin students paying attention, in the latter the President of the Republic Urho Kekkonen. Suddenly a group of activists managed to break free from the porters’ restraint and ran towards President Senghor, who was standing at the podium, and leaped upon him. His bodyguards were quick to react and got hold of the assailants, and together with the porters carried them out. The audience was naturally rather taken aback and the fracas led to a palpable unease among the audience. The President of the Republic’s trademark bald head was completely motionless in the front row. The Rector Kivinen stood up, rather red in the face, and turning to face the audience said in a dignified voice: “I ask for calm in the hall when the President of the Republic is present.” And the lecture went on as if nothing had happened.

My best memory was the three days of the Congregation in 1977, when both I and my wife Yvonne received our Master’s degrees. After a long break, a newly-ignited tradition broke through the suppressed need to restore the brilliant and noble academic tradition, following the wild and radical years. The celebrations for my part reached their peak with my role as dance master, when I was given the task at the end of the Congregation ball to lead the franseesi, or country dance. I was a great feeling to lead the precise figures, keeping time with the Guards band. The black and white sea swayed back and forth on the dance floor of the Old Student House until the small hours and then spilled out onto Mannerheim street at sunrise to greet the new day. And a year later the Old Student House had burned to the ground. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Thomas Thesleff leads the dance at the Congregation Ball, 1977.​


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