Phoebe was born Phoebe Mary Frith in the Cotswolds (England). Her life was marked by sudden changes, beginning with WWII, which took her away from her school and her study of classical ballet. She enlisted in the WAF where she met Karl (“Jo”) Johannessen, a meteorologist with the Norwegian Air Force exiled in England. They were married in her parents’ lovely garden. After the war, with baby Lisbeth, they moved to Norway to a log cabin with no running water. Babies Erik and Sissel quickly followed. When Jo was offered a job in the US, they went, settling in Maryland where Baby Jan Nils was born. Phoebe re-connected with her classical ballet training and studied to be certified as a teacher.
And then they were off to Chicago’s South Side for a year’s graduate study for Jo and then a six-year span in O’Fallon, Illinois, where Phoebe opened a very successful little ballet school, planted another garden, and met her dear friends Norma and Zeke Brown. Eventually, they were back to Silver Spring, Maryland, where Phoebe plunged into art, finding her place among the Friths and Crickmays she sprang from. She drew and potted and sculpted and studied pastel. She entertained grandchildren for weeks at a time, taking them to the zoo, museums, on walks, giving them messy art projects in the basement. There were large lavish Christmases — dinner was legion and delicious and the tree was always tall and blazing with lights and familiar decorations and there was always a fire in the fireplace and carols around the piano.
And finally to Vashon, where Erik had previously settled. He built Phoebe and Jo a lovely house and Phoebe was home at last. Her vegetable garden flourished. She made fast friends; Phoebe, Karin and Nina, a trio of artists. Again, vast grandchildren larks—bonfires, walks on the beach at KVI, forbidden but kindly ignored games of tag up and downstairs, cribbage lessons. It couldn’t have been easy, but in each new place, whatever her private fears and tears must have been, Phoebe dove in, looked around and turned the new thing into something warm and beautiful.
Phoebe’s final few years were spent at the Vashon Community Care Center where she continued to make new friends and form deep bonds. She and her friend Tom Johnson were often seen walking around the building, watching the baby ducks or the hummingbirds feed in the garden.
Phoebe was pre-deceased by her brother John and her husband Karl (“Jo”) and is survived by her four children (Lisbeth, Erik, Sissel, and Jan Nils), twelve grandchildren and their families (Nicholas Brown, Nora Brown, Phoebe Johannessen, Mark Johannessen, Alex Ewing, Plover Brown, Jack Johannessen, Dandan Johannessen, Ellery Johannessen, Lindsay Spencer, Kai Johannessen, and Adam Johannessen), and six great-grandchildren (Mabel Brown, Solomon Brown, Taavi Brown Malgarejo, Eloise Johannessen, Aleutia Johannessen, and Declan Johannessen).
Phoebe touched lives of probably hundreds of people, but her best gift was to her four children.
We’ll miss you Phoebe — Lisbeth, Erik, Sissel and Jan Nils.
There was a celebration of her life at the Camp Burton Lodge, September 8th, from 3:30 to 7 p.m.