Meet Eliza Reid – Iceland’s Canadian first lady

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 Eliza Reid and her husband, Gudni Johannesson are shown in this handout image during his campaign in Iceland. Eliza Reid and her husband, Gudni Johannesson are shown in this handout image during his campaign in Iceland. (Hakon Broder Lund/The Canadian Press)
Eliza Reid and her husband, Gudni Johannesson are shown in this handout image during his campaign in Iceland. Eliza Reid and her husband, Gudni Johannesson are shown in this handout image during his campaign in Iceland. (Hakon Broder Lund/The Canadian Press)
When on August 1 Iceland swears in its first new president in 20 years, it will also get a Canadian first lady.

Eliza Reid, 40, who grew up in the Ottawa valley, will assume the role of first lady after her husband, Gudni Johannesson, 48, was elected as the sixth president of the small Nordic country on June 26.

Johannesson, a history professor who has never before held public office, joined the presidential race in April with a promise to restore the nation’s trust in the political system after demonstrations called for the resignation of the prime minister amid the Panama Papers scandal involving offshore accounts.

Iceland’s president holds a largely ceremonial position, acting as a guarantor of the constitution and national unity.

The first lady doesn’t have a specific staff but she’ll accompany her husband on official visits and during ceremonial functions, Reid said in a phone interview from the couple’s home in Reykjavik.

“And hopefully I will be able to take on some other projects and duties as well that might help to shine a light on certain issues or areas, or help to promote Icelandic culture and heritage abroad,” said Reid who runs her own business as an editor and writer. “I have to do a bit of homework on where I’ll mostly devote my energies.”

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To listen to the full interview with Eliza Reid, click here.
From hobby farm to first lady

Reid, who was born in Ottawa but grew up on a hobby farm in the town of Ashton, about 40 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, said she met Johannesson in England about 20 years ago.

“When I was 18, I moved to Toronto to study international relations there and when I graduated with my BA degree, I moved to England to go to graduate school at Oxford University and met my now husband from Iceland,” Reid said, “It was an international place with people from around the world.”

Reid was working on her master’s degree at Oxford, while her husband, who teaches at the University of Iceland until he takes office, was pursuing his doctorate.

The couple moved to Iceland in 2003, and they married a year later, Reid said. They now have four children together — three boys, Duncan, 8, Donald, 6, Saethor, 4, and one girl, Edda, 2. Johannesson has an older daughter from his previous marriage, Reid said.

‘Quite excited’

“The youngest, of course, don’t even understand what’s going on, the older ones are quite excited,” Reid said.

The family will have to move into the presidential residence, which means that the children will have to change schools and go to a regular public school closer to the residence.

“And they’re now getting used to having their father recognized when we walk down the street, and people want to take photos and selfies with him,” Reid said. “But they are really proud of him and really excited about everything.”

The family will have to move into the presidential residence, which means that the children will have to change schools and go to a regular public school closer to the residence.

“And they’re now getting used to having their father recognized when we walk down the street, and people want to take photos and selfies with him,” Reid said. “But they are really proud of him and really excited about everything.”

‘Regular people’

Reid said she believes her Canadian background, her grounded personality is very much appreciated in Iceland’s egalitarian society where her husband is being called by his first name, and not Mr. President.

“Gudni and I are regular people, ordinary people and friendly and approachable, and I think it’s a Canadian quality if you will,” Reid said.

Reid said she’ll have to make adjustments to her writing and editing business.

“I’ll have to give up some of my projects that may be more connected with certain specific companies to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest,” Reid said. “But one of the projects that I want to continue is an event that I launched with a colleague of mine called the Iceland Writers Retreat, which is an annual event for writers in Iceland.”

In the meantime, the couple are going to return to Europe to root for Iceland’s Cinderella soccer team that pulled off one of the biggest shocks in international soccer history Monday beating England 2:1 at the Euro 2016 tournament in France.

Iceland will be playing against the tournament hosts in a quarter-final game that is sure to draw almost the entire nation of just 330,000 people to their television screens in addition to thousands who will be in France to see the game in person.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian Inuit elect new president, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland president to Alaska lawmakers – Be ‘more vocal and more active’ on Arctic, Alaska Dispatch News

United States:  Meet President Obama’s point man for Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News

 

 

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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