He was known as an informal politician who rose to become a defense minister, state auditor general and president of the Norwegian Parliament. On Monday former colleagues of Jørgen Kosmo were grieving his death at age 69 after what was described as a short illness.
“Jørgen Kosmo will be sorely missed,” wrote former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, now secretary general of NATO, on social media. “He combined principles with practicality.”
Kosmo, who also came from Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, was being hailed as a hedersmann by many others, the ultimate compliment that roughly translates to “a real gentleman.” Martin Kolberg, the longtime secretary of the Labour Party who’s now a Member of Parliament, called him “a strong politician, an honest man and a close friend of many of us, also me. I don’t think he had any enemies.”
He was easy-going and unaffected by the powerful positions he held in Norway, often seen walking back and forth alone from the defense ministry and nodding at passersby while smoking a cigarette. He could have a rough appearance at times, with the former head of Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) once referring to him in jest as “looking like a pickpocket thief.” Born in Fauske, he later moved south to Horten and worked as a carpenter before becoming involved in local politics in the 1970s. He later became Horten’s mayor and was first elected to Parliament, representing Vestfold County, in 1985. He served as defense minister and labour minister in Labour governments headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland and Thorbjørn Jagland. He rose to become president of the Parliament, Norway’s second-highest position after the monarch, from 2001 to 2005, and then State Auditor General.
Kosmo will always be remembered in Norway for showing up at a NATO Summit in 1994 wearing a light beige summer suit, while all the other defense ministers were somberly dressed in dark suits or uniforms. He later insisted to newspaper Dagbladet that he hadn’t made a fashion blunder: “No, it was warm weather and those who were at the meeting won’t remember me for the suit but for the speech I made. What all these clothing experts have to say, well, I don’t care much about that. I think there are few who look worse than them.”
Jonas Gahr Støre, Labour’s candidate for prime minister in the upcoming election, said Kosmo was “easy to speak with, and respected across party lines. Folks could rely on him.” That was confirmed by Per-Kristian Foss of the Conservative Party, who led the parliament’s disciplinary committee while Kosmo was state auditor general, and later succeeded Kosmo. “All of my colleagues remember only the good things about him today,” Foss told NRK. “He will be deeply missed.”