Sonja Biorn-Hansen

Biorn-Hansen—Sonja Biorn-Hansen, 58, on February 6, 2016, in Portland, Ore. Sonja was born on October 21, 1957, in Boston, Mass. She grew up in the Boston area, with summers in Vermont as part of a happy, feral pack of kids with the run of several hundred acres of forests, fields, wetlands, streams, and ponds. She credited her lifelong passion for environmental protection to her joyful, free range summers in Vermont. Other childhood interests included sewing, competitive swimming, running, and building a radio.

While earning a degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University, she became interested in energy conservation, alternative energy, and ways to reduce our environmental footprint through lifestyle choices. She joined the Cornell varsity crew team and rowed as stroke (the person who set the pace) on her boat of eight, making deep, lasting friendships with fellow rowers. After graduation she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she carried out commercial energy audits as part of Pacific Gas and Electric’s energy conservation program. She swam on a swim team, competed in the Escape from Alcatraz race in the bay, and volunteered at the Integral Urban House, which modeled sustainable living technologies. She also made a lifelong commitment to commuting by bicycle. During her years in facilities management on the University of California, Berkeley campus, she made her mark by cleaning up Strawberry Creek and mapping the utilities, saving the university millions of dollars in pointless and often destructive excavations.

She eventually moved to Portland, where she became an enthusiastic member of Multnomah Meeting, serving the children and youth program for years. She also began working in water quality at the Department of Environmental Quality. Sonja helped to raise her cousin Melanie, shepherding her through high school and college, an experience that awakened her yearning to be a parent—and she loved that Melanie’s children called her grandma. She often said that the three best decisions of her life were to help raise Melanie, to adopt Pei from China in 1998, and to move to the Cascadia cohousing community, which became the community that Sonja had always wanted and the village that helped raise Pei, who was the love of her life and the source of unending richness, joy, and pride during their 17 years together.

Sonja was a lifelong truth seeker and truth teller; the latter did not always endear her to others. But she did not see the truth as a weapon for getting her way. She sought to be an instrument of love and to submit to the demands of both love and truth herself. Her humble, brave forays into the murky places of the human heart and public policy, where she shone a fierce light of love and honesty, were a hallmark of her life. Her willingness to compromise, to accept imperfect progress in the right direction, to embrace all comers, was her gift to her communities. She was a strong, authentic voice for children and the environment in Multnomah Meeting and the wider world.

Sonja is survived by her daughter, Pei Biorn-Hanssen; her father and stepmother, Peter and Kathleen Griffith; her sister, Kat Griffith (Soren Hauge); and many cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and “grandchildren.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.