Gjærevoll was a gifted man. He learnt to read when he was only four years old! Still very young, he became active in the workers' youth movement. In 1931 he attended an experiential college [folk high school] in Tynset, and in 1936 he came to Orkdal landsgymnas [rural upper secondary school]. He graduated with top grades in 1937.
After some years as a teacher in Alvdal, he travelled (on his bicycle!) to Oslo to study mathematics and chemistry at the university. Here he also continued his political activities. After Germany occupied Norway in 1940, Gjærevoll was active in the resistance movement, particularly with the illegal press. The Germans eventually came close to finding him, and he fled through his home district to Sweden in the autumn of 1941. Here he remained until the war ended. Gjærevoll was engaged in teaching and university studies, and now he finally found his true field – botany. In the Norwegian-Swedish community he also met Astri Skaar, whom he married. Back in Oslo he was awarded his Master’s degree in botany in the spring of 1947.
In July the same year the family moved to Trondheim, where Gjærevoll was hired as a conservator and manager in the botany department of the science museum [now NTNU University Museum]. He remained with this institution more or less the rest of his life. He was an eager advocate for integrating the scientific institutions in the town, and he took responsibility for teaching botany to college and university students. In 1956 he was awarded a doctoral degree in botany. Mountain and arctic flora were his specialties, and fieldwork and excursions were frequently integrated in the curricula. Over the years many a student was challenged by the professor's stamina in the field!
Gjærevoll was a rare combination of natural scientist and politician. He became the leader of Arbeiderpartiet [Labour Party] in Trondheim in 1951. At about the same time he was elected to the city council. From 1958 to 1963, a frenzied urban expansion period, he was the town's mayor. He entered national politics when he became the Minister of Social Affairs in 1963. After Arbeiderpartiet lost the election in 1965, he was a representative to the Storing [MoP] from 1965 to 1969. Later he served two periods as a minister, the last time as Norway's first Minister of the Environment in 1972. As minister of social affairs he presided over the national insurance reform scheme. But it is for his time as the minister of nature and the environment and for his warm personality that he is best remembered. He worked on the care and monitoring of nature, the idea of establishing national parks and protection of nature in general.
He actually had a comeback as a local politician in the 1980s, and he was again the mayor of Trondheim from 1980 to 1981. He ended his career in active politics at the end of the 1980s. As a mountain man, hiking guide and involved citizen he kept going almost to the last.
Recommended reading: Olav Gjærevoll: Mine memoarer: 1916-1994 [My memoirs: 1916-1994].