Dart Center Fellow and documentary producer Liisa Hyvarinen lost her father to suicide a few days before her 15th birthday. Here, she remembers him as scientist, husband, father and man — far more than just a victim of suicide.
Väinö Juhani Hyvärinen was a respected professor of
physiology at the University of Helsinki who did leading research on the human brain and brains of monkeys. His reseach together with my mother, Dr. Lea Hyvarinen (a world reknowned opthalmologist and expert in vision development) led to the development of the "Lea" eye charts after his death.
The Lea charts are used worldwide to help screen young children's vision (see Lea-Test.Fi for more information about my mother's eye charts). My father also wrote textbooks in his area of expertise and contributed to many scientific studies and research projects and published articles in respectable medical publications.
He served as a Fellow at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in the late 1960s before setting up his research lab at University of Helsinki. When I was growing up he would frequently bring home other leading researchers, even winners of the Nobel Prize.
As a man, my father was a good downhill and crosscounty skier. He loved to entertain and would always want to sing in his university department's Christmas party skits even though he was tone deaf and had a horrible voice. He figured if he made fun of himself he'd make everyone else at the party more comfortable and would thus help break the ice. He was an avid biker — from end of March/early April (when Helsinki where I grew up still has snow on the ground) until October he would ride his bike to work from the suburbs — some 30 miles round trip.
He loved boating — we would take a trip on his uncle's boat every summer. My father would always be the pilot and when in later years we switched to a sailboat, he could wait to try and pass on his love for sailing to us — his three daughters. He was also an avid gardener as well and was always planting new rose bushes and taking care of our yard.
As a father, he was incredibly strict about education. He had grown up during and after World War II and valued the education he had received. He knew what it was like to not have things because during the war there were few supplies his mother could find and his own father was out serving as a soldier.
He learned from that to work very hard — and he also learned to hate pasta. Pasta was one thing his mother could find to feed him and his three younger sister. Although my mother is an excellent cook an dloves to make Italian food, my father would always decline pasta because in his words "he ate all the pasta he could take" when he was a child during the war.