In a heartfelt show of gratitude, sympathy and respect, more than 100 members of the Edmonds community joined with family, friends, colleagues and associates of the late Kristiana Johnson in a Monday afternoon outdoor service in City Park honoring her life and innumerable contributions, large and small, to the town she loved.
Former mayors Haakenson and Earling were on hand to pay their respects, although current mayor Mike Nelson was out of town so did not attend. Also present were childhood friends, family members, current and former city council and board colleagues, and numerous others who knew and worked with Johnson during her lifetime of service to the Edmonds community. Among them: current Edmonds City Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Will Chen, Vivian Olson, Susan Paine and Neil Tibbott and former Edmonds councilmembers Tom Mesaros, Dave Teitzel, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Ron Wambolt.
“We are here today to remember Kristiana Johnson,” Councilmember Neil Tibbott said in his opening remarks. “In her decades of public service, Kristiana built friendships across the city – it’s the kind of person she was. Today we celebrate and honor her.”
Pastor Barry Crane of Edmonds’ North Sound Church then took the podium to offer an invocation which included a reading of the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd.
“Today we give thanks for Kristiana’s love, perseverance and kindness,” he added. “She lives on in each of us who have lived in her presence.”
The first speaker was Kristiana Johnson’s sister, Janette, who recalled their years together growing up in mid-century Edmonds, when there were still dirt roads, horses, and family farms.
“When my sister was born, I was 18 months old, so while I was technically her big sister, we were very close,” she began. “Our younger years were filled with roaming the neighborhood, riding our bicycles, and visiting (neighbor) Mrs. Spicer’s chickens. Kristi loved the arts, and I vividly recall her carrying her cello up and down Pine Street – the steepest hill in town – on our way to Westgate Elementary. We always walked to school, rain or shine, and in summer we attended day camp together right here in City Park. That was 60 years ago.”
Janette went on to highlight how Kristiana’s love of the arts was not confined to music, but included the theater, concerts, movies and particularly the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She also had a passion for creating sculpture – “she loved having her hands in clay” – good food and cooking, especially around holiday time when she’d spend many hours, often late into the night, preparing her signature Scandanavian Fattigmann.
“And Kristi was lucky,” Janette added with a smile. “She loved entering contests, and over the years her prizes included a week getaway to Jose Cuervo’s private island, Seahawks tickets, a trip to Los Angeles and a red scooter. But the highlight was the Christmas Eve she drove a brand-new red Saturn automobile into our parent’s driveway, which she’d just won in a drawing.”
“I learned many life lessons from my sister,” she concluded. “Among these were to have fun, accept hope, and enter contests. She won three elections and served four terms on city council. She gave her last 10 years to the city she loved.
“In her honor I suggest that each of you reconnect with family, call a friend, rescue an animal (particularly a cat), plant a tree, take a hike in the woods,” adding tearfully, “Kristi, we did not expect you to leave us so soon.”
Niece Sarah then offered her recollections of growing up and spending time with her favorite Aunt Kristi.
“I was so fortunate to spend time with Aunt Kristi as I was growing up,” she said. “It was always fun, always singing, always full of adventure, always something fun to do. We spent hours exploring the Edmonds beaches, took camping trips to Mount Rainier, spent a weekend in Port Townsend (which she won), taught me to make pottery, and taught me to love Edmonds. She let me have ‘wild days’ when I didn’t have to brush my hair, but always held me to her house rules: mind Kristi, be kind to animals, and don’t fight.”
Lifetime friend Donita Reams next shared her many memories of spending time with Kristiana.
“We’ve been friends since we were 15 years old,” she said. “We went to school together, attended WSU together, traveled, had adventures, and after a lifetime of close friendship I can say with certainty that she was the most hopeful and fearless person I’ve ever known.”
Their adventures included skiing and backpacking together, pitching tents in the snow in the Packwood area, and even an international road trip driving to Mazatlan.
Another long-time friend, Val Stewart, spoke of Kristiana’s love of nature and how she would often take walks in Yost Park to simply sit on a bench and watch the birds.
“Parks were very important to her, and she was passionate about preserving the charm of Edmonds, keeping it small-scale, quaint, and pedestrian-friendly,” Stewart explained. “On council she was always prepared; her attention to detail made it difficult to put anything past her. Her decisions were guided by her strong moral compass, her command of Roberts Rules of Order was unreal, and it meant everything to her to serve the citizens of Edmonds to the best of her ability. She brought respect and wisdom to her role on council and all the boards she served on.”
Not feeling up to a major celebration when she turned 70 in April, she and Val opted to enjoy her favorite meal – a cheeseburger and a beer at Rory’s – just the two of them.
“We talked and laughed all evening,” recalled Stewart.
“The last time I spoke with her was the night before she passed,” she added. “Even then, she was cheerful and never complained. She was all about doing the best for the citizens of Edmonds. Kristi, may your legacy live on.”
Next to speak was Maggie Fimia, a long-time friend and supporter of Kristiana.
“Kristiana dedicated herself to making Edmonds as good as it can be for families, business and the environment,” she said. “Her work ethic was unparalleled, and it was always about making good policy, not political power. She was one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever met, and I’m sure she’d be pleased – and a bit surprised – to see so many people here today.”
Fimia went on to describe Johnson as a “passionate planner,” whose efforts leave a lasting legacy in the marsh, the arts community, and downtown.
“She always came to the table with an open mind,” she concluded, “and was passionate about addressing problems in a cost-effective, environmentally sound way.”
Johnson’s long-time colleague on council, Diane Buckshnis, spoke next.
“I could go on for some time about Kristiana,” she began, “but I think these defining words sum it up best: pioneer, pragmatic, transportation planner, environmentalist, educated, exceptional leader, Roberts Rules expert, fair, old school, loyal, humble, sensitive, strong, witty, dependable, resilient, service above self, private, wise, funny, force of nature.
“She cared deeply about the citizens of Edmonds, always came to the table prepared, and that preparation showed by her thoughtful questions and discussion,” she continued. “She reveled in research, pragmatism and rationality. She was fiercely protective of the environment. Her education and intelligence were awesome.
“And she was brave. She was not afraid to ask the tough questions, even when it was out of favor with the majority,” Buckshnis pointed out. “She sat through some uncomfortable moments when cruel and negative comments were made toward her, but through it all she invariably remained stoic, took the high road, and was incredibly resilient even when we knew she was hurting inside. Her motto at times like this was ‘don’t complain and don’t explain.’
“Kristiana, while there were many times we would have to agree to disagree, we always remained friends,” she concluded. “I will miss you, your intelligence, and your insights terribly,” adding with a smile, “I guess God just needed a transportation planner.”
Last to speak was niece Lara Abbaschian, daughter of Kristiana’s sister Janette and her husband Reza.
“Aunti Kristi (and we always spelled it with an “i” because it went better with Kristi) never missed a family milestone – she was always there, no matter how far she had to travel. She was always my ‘cool Aunti Kristi.’ I spoke with her the last weekend she was in the hospital.”
Abbaschian then read the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi in honor of her aunt before turning the program back to Pastor Barry Crane to deliver the benediction.
“At times like this when we come together to celebrate a life, we invariably think about our own lives, ultimately asking ourselves ‘have I lived a good life,’” Crane said. “One measure of living a good life is doing justice – and Kristiana knew how to do justice. She cared about it in ways large and small, she lived it every day of her life. And a big part of justice for her was being careful to serve everyone.
“Finding justice is an enormous task, and Kristiana showed us how it’s done by helping one person at a time,” Crane continued. “One way this was borne out was her careful watchfulness of how public funds were spent, where she showed on many occasions that she’d rather spend less money new equipment and more on helping people. She loved kindness, and was somewhat befuddled by what she saw as the lack of kindness around us. She embraced change with kindness, preserving what is special and great in our community. She knew how to walk humbly with her God.”
After the ceremony, attendees remained to mingle, share memories and enjoy a selection of Kristiana’s favorite music – starting off with ABBA’s Dancing Queen – while sharing one of Kristiana’s favorite treats: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel