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|3rd President of Iceland|
1 August 1968 – 1 August 1980
|Prime Minister||Bjarni Benediktsson |
|Preceded by||Ásgeir Ásgeirsson|
|Succeeded by||Vigdís Finnbogadóttir|
|Born||6 December 1916|
Tjörn, Svarfaðardal, Iceland
|Died||13 September 1982 (aged 65)|
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
|Alma mater||University of Copenhagen |
University of Iceland
Kristján was born in Tjörn, Svarfaðardal, Iceland. His parents were Þórarinn Kr. Eldjárn, a teacher in Tjörn, and Sigrún Sigurhjartardóttir. He graduated in archaeology from the University of Copenhagen and taught at the University of Iceland. In 1957 he was awarded a doctorate for his research into pagan burials in Iceland. He was a teacher at the Akureyri Grammar School and the College of Navigation in Reykjavík, becoming a curator at the National Museum of Iceland in 1945 and its Director in 1947, a position he held until the 1968 presidential election.
In 1966–68 he hosted a series of educational TV programs on the (then new) Icelandic National Television (RÚV), in which he showed the audience some of the National Museum's artefacts and explained their historical context. These programs became quite popular, making him a well known and respected popular figure. This no doubt gave him the incentive needed to run in the 1968 presidential election as a politically non-affiliated candidate.
Starting as the underdog in the 1968 presidential election, running against Ambassador Gunnar Thoroddsen who initially had a 70% lead in the opinion polls, Kristján won 65.6% of the vote on a 92.2% voter turnout. He was re-elected unopposed in 1972 and 1976. In 1980 he decided not to run for another term, wanting to devote his remaining years entirely to continuing his lifelong academic work.
His son Þórarinn Eldjárn is one of Iceland's most popular authors, specializing in short stories, but also writing poetry and an occasional novel. His daughter Sigrún Eldjárn is also an author and illustrator of several children's books. Þórarinn's son, Ari Eldjárn, is Iceland's most prominent stand-up comedian.