Dr. Roger Blidmo died of a heart attack yesterday. I just talked to a long-time employee of his who confirmed the rumour. The guy was only 56. My heart goes out to his family.
Roger was one of Swedish archaeology's most famous/notorious participants, known since two decades for his uncompromising fight for private-sector contract archaeology. The whole business will take years to adjust to him not being there anymore. County archaeologists will suddenly have only half the tender-process paperwork to deal with.
Sweden has been governed by Social Democrats for most of the past century. Our public sector is large and well-organised. When Roger came along in the eighties and dared to suggest that rescue excavations might not have to be the exclusive province of the central and regional authorities, it was seen as an extremely radical proposition. For a while, people who worked for Roger were seen as traitors, almost as if they wanted to sell runestones to tourists or dynamite passage tombs. And though Roger's company, Arkeologikonsult AB, has long been an accepted player on the market, it is still the only one with more than a handful of employees.
Says one of my contract-archaeologist friends,
"Blidmo was one of the most influential people in Swedish contract archaeology in the past decades. He was a strong lobbyist with good contacts among conservative politicians, famous for filing endless complaints against tender decisions and for bombarding municipal authorities, county administrations and companies with correspondence. I believe this will have repercussions for the future of Swedish contract archaeology."
I worked for two spells for Roger: my second fieldwork season in 1993-94 at age 21, and a few months in 2002. Both times I left the company to do research, both times I left amicably, and both times Roger had offered me a well-paid steady job. I can't overstress how extremely rare this is in Swedish archaeology. Well-paid. Steady. Job. In late 2001, when I really needed an income, the guy called me out of the blue, asked me how I was doing and offered me that job on the spot.
Few people appear to have left Arkeologikonsult amicably through the years: I guess my personality was uncommonly well suited to working for Roger. I'm loud, assertive and not very diplomatic, and I believe some people find me absolutely obnoxious. But I've learned through the years not to let the Jante Law bring me down. Roger Blidmo had learned that too. He was a man who needed space to wave his arms when he was talking, and he didn't mind others waving theirs. I am very grateful for the repeated solid support he gave me.