Look at the black and white photo. It was taken in Linköping Cathedral one day in early summer 1973, towards the end of the very first promotion ceremony of the city’s new university college. Bengt Normann, Olle Stendahl and Christer Tagesson, wearing their doctor’s hats, smile proudly at the camera. Bengt Normann, Olle Stendahl and Christer Tagesson in Linköping Cathedral 1973. Photo credit Privat
“I remember how solemn it was. I was elated at having done something good, and then it was of course a really big thing that Astrid Lindgren was promoted to honorary doctor at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on the same occasion,” says Christer Tagesson.
Bengt Normann recallls similar memories when we gather in his house 50 years later. Olle Stendahl takes a moment to think. He spins his hat, which is in pristine condition, in his hands. Astrid Lindgren became an honorary doctor at the first Academic Celebration in Linköping in 1973. Photo credit Arkivbild: Linköping universitet
“I remember my old granny being very thrilled that I was going to be a doctor. She bought me the hat.”
Bengt got his hat from his mother. Christer does not quite remember how his hat was financed.
“But I’m sure I paid for it!”
The move to Linköping
They all laugh. They have had many good laughs together over the years. The first time Christer and Olle met was when they began studying medicine in Lund in 1966.
Having completed his studies at Uppsala, Bengt Normann moved to Lund a few years later to get his medical degree and study for a PhD with Docent Lars Edebo. He quickly found out that Edebo was soon to get a professorship in medical microbiology at the new university college in Linköping, and was set on joining him there. But more people were needed to get things going in the new place. Olle Stendahl and Christer Tagesson, who had begun with small microbiology research projects in Lund, were asked to come along to Linköping and work as assistants in parallel with their doctoral studies.
“My first thought was: Linköping? Where the heck is that? Then I quickly understood what a fantastic opportunity it was, and if I didn’t like it, I could always go back to Lund. But that didn’t happen,” says Christer Tagesson.
True pioneering spirit
When the medical programme started and the first medical students came to Linköping in the autumn of 1969, the trio had moved to Östergötland.
“I recall that the lab hadn’t been finished and we had to climb over scaffolding to get to the rooms where we were going to teach. There was a true pioneering spirit about it, which appealed to the students, and we established a very good rapport with them,” Olle Stendahl Photo credit Cissi Säfström
Olle Stendahl fondly recalls his years as a young researcher:
“In those days, when you told people you were doing research, they found it really exciting. Deservedly or not, you actually got quite an elevated position, especially in a small city like Linköping.”
The trio found the subsequent four years to be intense and eventful. As the Medical Microbiology Department, just like much of the new university college (which became Linköping University in 1975), had to be built from scratch, those working on it together felt like a family of settlers.
Bengt was ready to defend his doctoral thesis in the spring of 1973. Only a couple of months before the Academic Ceremony, it was still not evident that he would be joined by Olle and Christer. But all three of them finished their theses and became doctors – a huge achievement that became a springboard to their successful careers in and around LiU.
The longest employment record
Bengt Normann became an infectious disease doctor and later also an infection control doctor. He continued teaching at the Faculty of Medicine throughout his career.
Christer Tagesson had a career in research, became a doctor of clinical chemistry and later a professor of occupational and environmental medicine. Olle Stendahl stayed in microbiology, soon became a docent and was chosen to take over the professorship in Linköping in the 1980s. His subsequent employment history includes becoming a dean when the Health University opened in 1986, and he has held various appointments at LiU up until 2022. Photo credit Cissi Säfström
“Yes, I’m probably the one with the longest employment record at LiU. I never had a reason to look elsewhere. Linköping was a small city before the university existed, and it’s more fun to be in a place that keeps developing and not just trying to keep what’s already there.”
Alongside their professional careers, the three of them have always been in touch over the years, and meet at crayfish parties and other events. Christer and Olle exercise together at least once a week, preferably by taking long walks.
“We tend to discuss important things, like the development of academia,” says Christer Tagesson.
The pinnacle of a fantastic time
Fifty years of developments in academia provides plenty of food for thought and discussion. This will probably become evident during the Academic Celebration at the end of May, when the three of them will be promoted to jubilee doctors, together with five others. The eight will be the very first jubilee doctors promoted at Linköping University.
“A lot has happened in Linköping over these years. The university has always been innovative and has been a pioneer in many ways, in terms of pedagaogics as well as choice of subjects. I’m honoured to have been part of this journey,” says Christer Tagesson.Bengt Normann. Photo credit Cissi Säfström
Olle Stendahl spins his doctor’s hat full circle again.
“It will probably feel like the pinnacle of a fantastic time that we’ve been fortunate enough to experience. There were so many opportunities in the 60s, 70s, and also in the 80s. You didn’t have to constantly think about funding, but could focus on the important things: research, teaching and development. And I think our story somewhat reflects this success, when work and social aspects went hand in hand.
FACTS: Jubilee doctors
A jubilee doctor, or “doctor jubilaris” in Latin, is a title awarded a person who was promoted to doctor fifty years earlier. At the Academic Celebration on 26-27 May, Linköping University can, for the first time, honour jubilee doctors, i.e. doctors promoted in 1973. Those to be promoted from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences are Olle Stendahl, Bengt Normann, Christer Tagesson, Rolf Andersson, Arne Tärnvik, and Hans Arnqvist. Those to be promoted from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are Martin Ribe and Gunnar Åberg.