Lives of the fellows

Pentti Ilmari Halonen

b.27 April 1914 d.[?] 1983
MD Helsinki(1941) FRCP(1978)

Pentti Halonen was born in Kuopio, in the Finnish lake district province of Savo, and he spoke the distinctive Savo dialect all his life, even accenting his spoken English with it. His father was a master builder. From school in Kuopio, Pentti went to university in Helsinki, where the war delayed his graduation until 1941. He had then become attracted to cardiology and wrote his MD thesis on the venous circulation of the heart.

Halonen’s scientific bent in internal medicine led to his appointment as professor of medicine at the University of Helsinki at the age of 39. In 1947, some six years before his appointment as professor, he had been appointed chief physician to the hospital of the privately funded Wihuri Research Institute, where he founded the first cardiac catheterization laboratory in Finland. Experience in this new technique was gained at Hammersmith Hospital where he was made warmly welcome by John McMichael (later Sir John) in spite of the fact that Halonen then spoke very poor English and never became really fluent in it.

In 1959 he invited the Hammersmith heart team to Finland to initiate open heart surgery there. The team was led by W P Cleland, a Fellow of the College. Pentti also had close contacts with the leaders of cardiology in Europe, USA and Scandinavia, and these international connexions helped him in his pioneer work of training the first generation of modern cardiologists in Finland.

However, Halonen was not a narrow specialist. He took an active part in hospital administration and helped to plan the new Meilahti Hospital in 1965, before becoming chief physician at the Helsinki University Central Hospital from 1970-74. He personally cared for a large number of patients until the end of his life, and his great clinical ability led him to become personal physician to two Finnish Presidents - Juho Passikivi and Urho Kekkonen.

Halonen was actively engaged in the work of national and international societies, being founder of the Finnish Cardiac Society, a member of the Finnish Acdemy of Sciences and Letters, and a corresponding member of the British and other cardiac societies. He was also vice-chairman of a bank and a pharmaceutical company.

Pentti was a man of great personal charm, with no hint of stuffiness or pretension despite his high position. He kept his family life entirely private and one never met his wife or daughter. His hobby was salmon and trout fishing, and when this became difficult in Norway he went regularly to Iceland for it. A heavy cigarette smoker - usually lighting one from the butt of another - he paid the price he must have expected. He died from cancer of the lung, actually an adenocarcinoma, at the age of 69.


(Volume VIII, page 204)

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