Nurmi involved himself intensely in the new foundation's activities, and the first grants were awarded in the same year. At the ceremony the recipients were awarded their grants by the great man himself. In his presentation to honour the occasion Professor Pentti Halonen said: 'Paavo Nurmi achieved greatness in his early years by running Finland into the conciousness of the world. By establishing the Paavo Nurmi Foundation in his later years he has made another great achievement which will prove to be of historical importance'.
In only its second year of life the new foundation organized an international symposium in Helsinki on Thrombosis and Coronary Heart Disease, which was attended and addressed by numerous Finnish and foreign scientists. Over the years since then the Paavo Nurmi Foundation has concentrated on two principle activities - sponsoring individual investigators for sabbatical terms, and organising international symposia on topics of current interest in cardiovascular diseases.
These two activities had their origins in the contemporary Finnish context. Professor Pentti I Halonen (1914-83) was the father of cardiology in Finland as well as being Paavo Nurmi's key mentor in planning and crystallizing the structure and aims of the Paavo Nurmi Foundation. He served as the foundation's first vice-chairman and took over as chairman after Nurmi's death. Halonen had long been acutely aware of the problems faced by many ofhisjunior clinical research students in finding time for research while heavily committed to clinical duties. In the Finland of 1968, no institution provided sabbatical terms for research, and not even the university hospitals were able to award salaries or part-time remuneration for exclusively clinical research. There was thus a pressing need for this type of sponsorship in medial research.
Although much less so than in 1968, Finland is still relatively remote from the major world centres of medical research. While a young doctor, Halonen developed a passionate devotion to cardiology, including the desire to know more about cardiovascular research in the international context. In the late 1940s he visited London's Hammersmith Hospital, where he quickiy developed a close friendship with John MeMichael, the leading British cardiologist of the day and founder of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital. McMichael was eventually awarded a knighthood for his work and came to be known affectionately as 'Sir John'.
His rounds of medical research establishments abroad and discussions with Sir John and others convinced Pentti Halonen of the urgent need for Finnish medical scientists to develop contacts, dialogue and cooperation with colleagues in other countries. Thus is was that a priority activity of the Paavo Nurini Foundation from day one was to organise symposia in Finland every two years for the purpose of inviting prominent foreign medical research specialists to address the meetings and discuss topical issues with Finnish scientists.
The foundation also set out to to create or support initiatives that could later be adopted and -expanded by larger institutions or society in general. In 1972 the foundation funded the launch of cardiac resuscitation units in emergency ambulances with an attending specialized physician, while in 1973 the establishment of a renal dialysis unit was funded. The Paavo Nurmi Foundation is also a co-founding sponsor of the prestigious Tiede 2000 (Science 2000)journal, which presents and discusses the latest research findings in a format accessible to the public. In recent years Estonian cardiologists have been supported for visiting research tenures in Finland, and Finnish scientists for visits to foreign laboratories.