‘Remarkable’ Edmonds woman thought of life as a journey

As a child in Germany in the 1930s, Brigette Bjorn peeked at her parent’s lavish New Years Eve parties before being tucked into bed.

Her warm, secure family life imploded when she was barely a teen.

Born May 31, 1930, in Marienwerder, West Prussia, her family was forced from their home when she was 13. They fled, never to return, and experienced all the hardships of refugee life. They were captured by the Russians and suffered after the war due to little food and no place to live.

She had bayonet scars on her body, said her daughter, Lisa Hollek.

One post-war Christmas, when the family had five herring to share, was the best of Bjorn’s life.

Brigitte Meess Bjorn, of Edmonds, died Sept. 7 of heart failure. She is survived by her children Pamela Mullins, of Southampton, England, Christina Croad, Isle of Wight, England, Lisa Bjorn Hollek, Edmonds, and Stephen Bjorn, San Antonio, Texas; her sister, Helga Beresford, Kingston; brother Ulrich Karlsrhue of Germany; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

She married young in Germany, had three children in three years, and later lived on the Isle of Wight with her husband’s family. That’s where she learned to speak English.

Her marriage ended and she felt hostility being a German woman. She left her daughters on the island and smuggled her son to her parent’s home in Germany in 1950, where she found work for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Try as she might, Bjorn was never able to regain custody of her two daughters. She met Norwegian Ivan Bjorn in Germany and moved to America in 1955. Bjorn was able to establish a loving relationship with her children who still live in England.

Ivan and Brigette Bjorn lived in Lakewood.

While taking a citizenship class at Everett Junior College in 1962, her excellent German was noticed. She was asked if she would teach conversational German at night, but was told she had to earn a college degree.

That was a challenge.

Brigette Bjorn never graduated from high school, but that sort of thing never stopped the woman, who lived through two diagnoses of terminal cancer in her lifetime.

She became a graduate of the University of Washington and received her masters degree from Western Washington University. Hollek said her mother was proud of her education, career, and the legacy she built in the German program at EvCC.

The family requests memorials be made to the Everett Community College Foundation Brigitte Bjorn Scholarship for German Studies.

John Olson, executive director of the EvCC Foundation, said he worked with Bjorn before she retired in 1994. He said she was well aware of the value of the college to the community.

Olson said with so many students able to attend the school only if they are given help, Bjorn wanted to garner donations to help change lives.

David Perrault learned German while he served in the Army in the mid 1960s, then was hired as a patrolman with the Marysville police. He signed up for German classes in 1968 in Everett.

“I was certainly enriched by my contact with Frau Bjorn,” Perrault said. “She was a great professor, patient, dedicated and really interested in her students learning the German language.”

She told her class that when she visited Germany, folks wondered if she was a movie star because of her excellent diction.

“She told them she had to be correct in her grammar and pronunciation because she wanted her students to be able to speak good German, and that she had to be a role model,” Perrault said. “She was certainly that, a great role model. She may not have been a movie or television star, but in my opinion, she was a star and a great lady.”

They couldn’t go to Safeway, her daughter said, without folks calling hello to Frau Bjorn. Her daughter said her mother made a family out of her friends, drove a Mercedes, belonged to a garden club and was brilliant.

“She was so lively,” Hollek said. “She was outrageous and funny. We’d go places and tell her not to over share with people. She couldn’t go two feet without having to talk to someone.”

Bjorn enjoyed traveling to England and Germany to visit family.

Her motto was “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Bjorn wrote her autobiography which is a gift to her relatives. She doted on her grandson, Zachary Hollek.

“She lived through the war, through cancer, immigrated twice and started over,” her daughter said. “”Remarkable is the only word for her.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read