Once upon a time Riga was the jewel of the Swedish crown - was the biggest town of the Swedish empire – bigger and richer than Stockholm – and the most powerful commercial center of the Hanseatic merchant league along the Baltic Sea. Still, they spoke German on the Stock Exchange.

Riga was the Hong Kong of Europe - an international trade center – through which the exports from the great Russian hinterland were transported to the markets of the great merchant cities of Lübeck, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Amsterdam; from which the industrial goods of Europe were brought back east. And where business blossoms, culture springs alive. It was in this city that Richard Wagner lived to become a world known composer, and Eisenstein, much later, laid the foundation for Soviet film making. Most cities on the Baltic coastline were - to tell the truth - mere provincial backwaters in comparison with the multinational culture that blossomed in Riga during her golden age.

The remarkable thing about Dr. Reynisson, the Icelandic honorary counsul general in the Latvian capital, was that he did his share in restoring Riga to her old fame. Behind it all there is a story to tell. He left Iceland as a young man for studying mathematics and business in the USA. By coincidence he had a Finnish tutor while he was graduating with a Master´s degree from a university in Californa. They became friends, The Finnish master and the Icelandic deciple. Later Gísli decided to follow his master to Tampere in Finland, where he did postgraduate work in maths and ended up with a PH.D. .in econometrics. By then the young Icelander´s fate was decided.

After a short while in St. Petersburgh working with a Finnish financial corporation Gísli decided that it would be wiser to do rather than to teach. He relocated from St. Petersburgh to Riga. The right man at a right time. Riga was in ruins. Everything was up for sale. But a major effort at restoration was required. Foreign investors, who were interested in settling there, needed access to modern infra-structure and hi-tech communications with the outside world. Gísli´s genius was that he was always one step ahead of the competition. Those who wanted to set up camp in Riga, be it Microsoft, Statoil or Pepsi Cola, not to mention lesser operators, ended up as Gísli ´s clients.He built up modern harbour facilites. He built industrial parks with avant-garde technology. Gradually one thing led to another. In the end Gísli had become one of the major entrepreneurs of the new Latvia.

What was it that made Gísli the rich mans of Riga? It was the man himself. He was always alert and passionate in his endevours. He analysed the situation by cold rationality and precision. Some said that he was over-active. Inactive he was certainly not. But despite the daring he was careful at every step. The calculation of the mathematician was prepared to the minutest details. He analysed the risk, tried to foresee what was coming, but always had a plan B or C to prepare for the unexpected. That´s why he was so successful. I wish the leaders of the Icelandic republic had been similarily alert, but precautioned by foresight.

An entrepreneur with an academic background. There aren´t too many of those around. Perhaps that´s what made all the difference. But he died far too young. He had so many things yet to do. But he had reliable collaborators in Latvia who from now will have to keep the flag flying. The Laima clock must maintain its sound. Bryndís and I convey to Anna Margrét and all the family our heartfelt message of sympathy in gratitude for our time together on the banks of Daugava.

Article in Icelandic

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson Former Minister for Foreign Affairs