From the Publisher’s Desk: Saying (a belated) farewell to Harry Gatjens

Harry Gatjens

I’ll never forget the first time I met Harry Gatjens. It was early 2010, a few months after I started publishing My Edmonds News. Harry and I were among the few people regularly attending Edmonds City Council meetings. One night, Harry introduced himself to me.

Harry explained that as an Edmonds resident, he had a keen interest in city government and a passion for civic engagement. I soon discovered that he was not only very smart — he also knew how to write. At the time I met Harry, I was juggling a full-time job in downtown Seattle while trying to run my fledging news site, and I can sincerely say that without Harry’s help during those early years, I wouldn’t have made it. Later, he also became the bookkeeper for my company.

Occasionally, Harry covered city council meetings when I couldn’t get home in time from my Seattle job or had another conflict. He also helped me enter the world of video, assisting in the video recordings of candidate events.

Harry died on Nov. 20, 2020, after facing — and many times overcoming — multiple health issues related to diabetes. His memorial service was postponed due to COVID, but was finally held Friday, Aug. 20, at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. During the service, I learned much about Harry’s background that I didn’t previously know.

Harry was born July 20, 1954 to Harry and Isabelle Gatjens. The family had just moved from Queen Anne Hill to Alderwood Manor, and he joined brother John, sister Linda and brother Richard — making a family of six. He attended grades 1-4 at Alderwood Manor Elementary and finished elementary school at Spruce Elementary, where his mom was the school secretary. It was during his elementary years that Harry developed his love of all things hydroplane — and he and his brothers could be found pulling mini wooden hydros behind their bikes or racing them in a small pool in the family’s backyard.

Harry went to middle school at Lynnwood Junior High, where he was active in student affairs and basketball. He graduated from Meadowdale High School in 1972 and attended the University of Washington, graduating in 1976. He completed his master’s degree in business in 1978.

He worked at a variety of companies during his career, including Pirate’s Plunder, Kawaguchi Travel, My Favorite Shoe Company, Marsh & McLennan, Conversay and Metafos.

Harry purchased a 1/8 scale radio-controlled hydroplane, originally the Miss Jif, then “finally and forever” — according to his family — raced with the Miss Budweiser. He became friends with many hydroplane greats over the years, including Bernie Miller, Chip Hanauer and other drivers, owners and crew members.

During the service, it was my great joy to share memories of all the contributions that Harry made to Edmonds — and to My Edmonds News.

Harry decided to apply for a vacant city council seat and wrote a three-part column about his experiences. Soon, he became known to readers as Citizen Harry – a name we chose for a regular column he wrote on a variety of government issues. To remind myself of just how much Harry wrote, I went back to My Edmonds News and did a search – and found 15 pages of results – nearly 200 articles. He also organized a series of “Coffee with Harry” events – mostly for city candidates running for office – that were held at his favorite Edmonds restaurant Chanterelle. Owner Brooke Baker gave us a corner of the dining room for residents to gather, plus free coffee, and Harry would serve as moderator, asking a series of questions and also facilitating a discussion with attendees.

Harry Gatjens moderates a “Coffee with Harry” event at Chanterelle in September 2015.

Harry was truly a Renaissance man when it came to the topics he wanted to write about. As an accountant, he understood numbers and so naturally wrote about the city budget. Not surprisingly, he had a passion for hydroplane racing, and from 2011 until his passing, he covered those races too. In fact, we used to joke that we were the only publication left in the U.S. that provided regular hydroplane race coverage, following the action all over the world. He had quite a following of readers who would come to My Edmonds News just to read his hydro reports.

But perhaps one of the impactful stories for me personally was a story that Harry wrote in December 2012 about a woman named Paula.

Harry liked to play poker, and he got to know Paula at a Shoreline casino. The story started out this way:

Paula Perez died last week. She had a stroke on Thursday and ended up dying on Saturday. She was 40 years old and had no family and few friends to speak of. I found out what happened when her boyfriend Mike saw my number on her phone and called to tell me she had died. He said she had spoken of me positively as a friend.

I met Paula a couple of years ago at the restaurant in a local Shoreline casino. She looked worn out and disheveled but was gulping down a meal. I spoke with her to learn her story and found out that she was a local Aurora Avenue prostitute.

She had been addicted to drugs, had bad teeth, was not particularly attractive and just looked like she had lived a very hard life. She was quite open about her lifestyle and seem to be, overall, a nice person.

The food at the restaurant was cheap and the location convenient for where she plied her trade. I came to talk to her whenever I saw her and always showed concern and respect. She seemed to appreciate my concern even though I wasn’t a customer.

In his story, Harry relayed that one time he gave Paula cash for food and found out later that she used it for drugs. From then on, he would bring her a meal or groceries or make a payment toward a room for her.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the skill set to provide her the help she needed to resolve her addiction,” Harry wrote. “I attempted to put her in communication with services that could help, but until she was ready to make her own effort my attempts proved futile.

“As we talked, I learned a bit about her background. Abused as a child and deserted by her parents and family, she ended up on the street at age 17. Drugs became a part of her life not long after, and she made a long downhill journey from that point forward.

“Ostracized for her profession, she made a few friends who would make an effort to help her change her life. Combined with the lack of a family to provide support Paula was left with no place to go.”

Several months after that story appeared, Harry was contacted by the adoptive parents of Paula’s two daughters, who were released to the state of Washington at the time of their respective births. The parents had wanted to learn more about Paula so they could provide their girls with more information about her, and Harry met with them to share all he knew.

In a later story, Harry reported on his meeting with the adoptive parents, writing: “This is an extraordinary and happy conclusion to my stories about Paula. These two people took on kids born into the worst of circumstances and have given them the opportunity to become exceptional. They inspire me.”

Harry inspired me. He had physical challenges that made it difficult at times for him to use his computer and later to even get around, but he never said no to an assignment and never lost his sense of humor. Most important, he maintained a deep love not only for his community but for humanity.

I will never forget him.

— Teresa Wippel, Publisher







  1. Great story about Harry. Thanks. His “Coffee with Harry” sessions were always well attended and when he had a candidate or public official as the primary guest, we got to the truth quickly and will little fanfare.

    I worked with Harry on the Fiber Optics committee and on a Levy committee. HIs ability to cut through the BS was always a joy to watch.

    Thanks for doing the story on such and interesting guy.

  2. Thank you Theresa, that was well said. Harry was a wonderful man who had many stories to tell. He was kind-hearted and well-respected. RIP Harry.

  3. Harry was a great guy, a really great guy! I’m very sorry that I wasn’t aware of his passing or the memorial service being held for him.

    1. It was a small, private family service — I was invited because of Harry’s connection to My Edmonds News. I was glad to be able to share all his contributions so his family knew about his impact.

  4. Thank you, Teresa, for such a heartfelt story. We need more Harrys. Civic involvement is so important.

  5. I grew up a few blocks from the Gatjens family in Alderwood Manor and went through the same schools as they did. This was prior to the building of Interstate 5 and Alderwood looked a lot like Darrington—-plenty of 5-acre tracts with woods to play in, no mall, little traffic. I remember pulling wooden hydroplane models behind our bikes—great fun. I didn’t know that Harry kept up his hydro interest in later life. Later, I luckily reconnected with Harry and we would have coffee at Chanterelles, reminiscing about the old days as well as discussing local politics affairs. Fascinating guy who will be missed. My sympathy to the Gatjens family.

  6. He will be missed. Working quietly in the background helping the people of Edmonds be their best while setting an example for all of us. Seems like creating a permanent memorial for him where people could see his face and read the words that captured his essence could help us remember him and the true meaning of community.

  7. Teresa, It’s people like yourself, Mr. Gatjens and the other four commenters (so far) here that make Edmonds such a great place to live, in spite of our many squabbles. I thank and appreciate all of you, for all you do and have done for the citizens here.

  8. Harry was a wonderful person who contributed to Edmonds a lot. He insisted on civility at all times, and his coffees were a stellar example of local political discourse done right. You did not have to agree with anyone but you had to keep it civil and respectful. Everyone got a voice at his coffee chats. Ideas flew around the table. Harry truly cared about Edmonds and made a huge contribution. He was a friend, and he will be missed greatly.

  9. Thanks, Teresa, for sharing this and for coming to Harry’s memorial service. I wish I had had a chance to speak to you. Harry would send me links to his articles at My Edmonds News. I always appreciated how well written they were and how fair he always strove to be in them. Living in New York, most of my contact with my brother was via phone. When I came to visit, we would usually attend a sporting event or play poker together at one of his favorite casinos. I never got a chance to attend one of his coffee gatherings and am saddened by that. But it is wonderful to hear what an impact he made through them and his other citizenship efforts.

    I will miss him most because I loved him and I admired him, but I still carry him in my heart.

      1. I admired the quiet dignity in which Harry Gatjens conducted himself. He had clarity and wit and wanted the best for our town. I will miss the fine measure of this well serving citizen.

  10. I was on the ASB Council with Harry at Lynnwood Junior High, and followed his reporting as Citizen Harry with great fondness, sending him an occasional message of support when his reporting particularly touched me. Thanks for reminding us all of the amazing soul that we have lost.

  11. In high school Harry took photographs of everything around the halls and events for Mesika yearbook. Periodic sales of these prints were popular and fun treasure hunts. He sure had an artistic eye and a curiosity that sounds like it served well his whole life.

  12. Oh Dear!
    Harry’s passing is such a loss to the Edmonds community.

    What a remarkable, fun to be around, and engaging man he was.
    The loss of Harry’s mischievous humor and accepting-of-all manner will certainly be missed.

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