Havel, Olga (1933–1996)
Havel, Olga (1933–1996)
First lady of the Czech Republic. Name variations: Olga Havlova. Born Olga Splíchalová in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1933; died in Prague on January27, 1996; married Václav Havel (a playwright and president of the Czech Republic), in 1964.
The beloved first lady of the Czech Republic and a remarkable woman in her own right, Olga Havel had humble beginnings. Born in a working-class district in Prague in 1933, Olga was six when her parents divorced, and as a teenager she helped raise her eldest sister's five children. She was employed at a shoe factory before meeting Václav Havel, the intellectual son of a millionaire, in the mid-1950s. They were as different in appearance as in background, he short and stocky, she tall, slim, and elegant. After a long courtship, which Václav celebrated in a poem, they were married in 1964. She subsequently supported her husband throughout his early career as a writer and resident playwright at the Theatre on the Balustrade, where she also worked. After the Soviet invasion of 1968, she saw him through his 20-year rise from a leader in the dissident movement to his ultimate position as president of the country. She was of particular strength to her husband during the years of his imprisonment, which he documented in letters, later published worldwide as Letters to Olga.
As first lady, a role she was anything but eager to assume, Havel proved invaluable in providing advice based on her deep understanding of the so-called "ordinary" people. She also established her own areas of interest, founding and heading up the Committee of Good Will, which in 1992 merged with the newly formed Olga Havel Foundation to carry out work with the mentally and physically handicapped as well as those afflicted with chronic illnesses. The foundation also spearheaded a campaign to prevent the spread of AIDS and initiated several projects aimed at disadvantaged children. Even after being diagnosed with cancer, Havel continued to pursue her charitable work. In 1995, she was nominated by the Czech Republic as the European woman of the year. Upon her death in January 1996, tens of thousands stood in line at the Castle in Prague for a chance to pay their respects to her.
Ash, Timothy Garton. "On Olga Havel (1933–1996)," in The New York Review of Books. March 21, 1996.