Maritime family background
His CV, as long as your arm, bears witness to an extraordinary capacity for work.
«That is because I’m an unusually good sleeper,» he says, «which is something I have from my mother, in combination with reasonably good health. Admittedly, I have lived half my life on medication to lower my blood pressure and in the last couple of years I have also been walking around with moderate atrial flutter. But this has not restricted my activities.»
He picks up a framed quote he brought with him from New York, and which has been hanging on his office wall ever since: «Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.»
«Working to achieve something always comes at a price,» he says.
«What price have you had to pay?»
«I have had to sacrifice some of my family life. I have always tried to make sure that we spent high-quality time together, for instance while at the holiday homes we saved up for, in the mountains at Ål and by the sea, on an islet in the Mefjord. My wife, however, has been wonderful and has managed to deal with a lot of things on her own.»
«I am sure I could have been a better dad as well,» he adds thoughtfully. «You tend to think about that sort of thing later on – when looking back.»
Considering his significant maritime family history it was far from obvious that Natvig would end up with a career in medicine. His father was a businessman, but advised his son to focus on the sciences for his A levels, as this would keep his options open. And this led him to medicine. He served his military conscription period as a navy doctor, which took him to Bergen and Marineholmen, where the Norwegian Navy was based at the time.
«The Håkonsvern naval base was established after my time, I’m pre-historic,» he laughs heartily. «I ended up applying for a job as assistant physician at the Gade Institute, under Professor Waaler, world famous for having discovered rheumatoid factor. I performed autopsies and similar procedures, but was encouraged by Olav Tønder to do my doctorial work at Broegelmann’s research laboratory, which was the centre of immunology research in Bergen.»
He gets out an old photograph from the celebratory doctoral dinner held at his home in Øvrelia in Bergen. Around the table sit men in tails, women in fancy 60s dresses and hairdos, all engaged in lively conversation, it seems.
He points to one of the women. «This is my wife, Harriet – she comes from Kristiansund. We met at the so-called Chapel in the Forest near Oslo, Nordmarkskapellet, where I was in charge of a Christian students’ camp. For my residency I ended up at Orkdal hospital and in Averøya as a district medical officer, which gave us an opportunity to develop the relationship further.»
«We have now been together for 55 years,» he continues. «We have four children, three girls and a boy, and now we also have four children-in-law, 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild.» With pride he shows me a new photograph showing the whole family together.
Passionate about history as he is, Natvig gives an engaging account of his family background, several generations back. His parents came from western Norway, his mother from Bergen and his father from Stavanger. His great grandfather, Sjur Flage, originated from a tenant farm at Bulken near Voss and travelled down to Bergen. He was an energetic man who married well and set up the Flage shipbuilding yard at Laksevåg. His paternal grandfather ended up a marine engineer working for Bergens Mekaniske Verksted. His paternal great grandfather, Tomas Natvig, was a ship’s captain working for Kielland. He was later to become a chief ship pilot and a member of the Norwegian parliament.
«Many have said that he was one of the people on whom the novelist Alexander Kielland modelled Skipper Worse, who uttered the famous line: «We arrive late, mr. Kunsel, but we arrive safe», having sailed the bark Ledaal safely home from South America. Given this family history, there was no alternative to the Navy for me during my period of military conscription,» he says.
«But family-wise what has left its deepest mark on me is that my mother lost her own mother in childbirth in 1907. She never got to see her mum and she was the first child. This was something my mother carried with her all her life. She herself gave birth to five children and was very close to us all. She cared for us in the most wonderful way. Mum gave birth to me at the Rikshospitalet’s Maternity Clinic and from there, she wrote her mother’s sister a beautiful letter saying that it was not until then that she fully understood how horrific it would have been for her own mother to die, leaving behind her newborn baby.»