Notes On a Gentle Man

By Satu Runa
For Papa (Dr. Pentti M. Rautaharju, Dec. 23rd, 1932 – Aug. 7th, 2018)

When I think about archetypes in storytelling and apply it to my father, a few iconic characters rise to the top. Being the warm, kind, provocative, playful, deeply pensive, adventurous explorer… I see in him the epitome of Finnish culture.

When I watch older James Bond movies, I think of Papa. When I see “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials, I see my father. If an actor were to portray him, I think of Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, or Patrick Stewart. Pensive, charming intellects confidently navigating the world, radiating their deep personal history of truly living. I benefited from this. We travelled together to 29 countries from the moment I was born. I am eternally grateful for this as the experience allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the human condition. The most worldly person I know, along with my mother, my father jet set around the world for the best reason: The people demanded it. A selfless, dedicated scientist, professor, and cardiologist, he was in high demand for his expertise because he devoted his life to extending lives. He is the hero to myself, and so many others.

He was the recipient of a rarely granted award: the role of Commander, Order of the Lion of Finland. The Finnish president at the time, Tarja Halonen (yes, the one that Conan O’Brien highly resembled) awarded that honor to him, marching with all the academics to Turku castle in their honor. Women and men are able to prevent and survive heart disease (the number one cause of death in America) in a large part because of his pioneering, life-saving heart research.

Doctor for the Finnish ski team at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960, Pentti watched his athletes win 7 medals, including 2 golds (something of note: it was at this Olympics where the first “instant replay” was utilised to verify a close call). He was a talented artist in carving wood reliefs, composing original poetry, and translating classic Finnish poetry, including several poems of Finland’s legendary poet, Eino Leino, published in the Poetry Salzburg Review (and on Pentti’s personal poetry blog: Jewels From Finland). Worldwide, people recognize the Finnish contributions of composer Jean Sibelius, painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and architect Eliel Saarinen. In heart research, my father, Dr. Pentti M. Rautaharju is a shining star.

In his later years, Pentti developed a skill for taking care of orchids- a patient and tender practice. A true Finn, he was intrinsically connected to the Earth, always having a large garden filled with a variety of flowers and vegetables. His impact on his friends, colleagues, and family will be felt for all time- but his gift to humanity is eternal. “I love you from here to eternity,” he would often say to me, gripping my hands. And eternity is where he will always be.

Dr. Pentti M. Rautaharju, PhD

Dr. Pentti M. Rautaharju, PhD in Salzburg, Austria (2010).

 Satu Runa