Conversations with Mary: Judith Johannsson

I met Judith Johannsson when her son purchased the house next door and was instantly attracted to her friendly manner.

Judith Johannsson happily serves customers at her downtown Fernie shop

Judith Johannsson happily serves customers at her downtown Fernie shop

I met Judith Johannsson when her son purchased the house next door and was instantly attracted to her friendly manner.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the oldest of four, a brother Peter is a doctor in Minneapolis and sisters Mary and Martha live in Winnipeg.

“Biblical names, my mother was a strong Christian believer and member of the Salvation Army. I was in uniform by the time I was in my teens,” Judith said. She remained in Winnipeg until after both high school and university graduations and then, sponsored by the University, she moved to Iceland to study Old Icelandic Literature towards a masters degree.

It was at that university that she met a handsome student studying engineering by the name of Magnus Johannsson. They married in August of 1968 and promptly left for Copenhagen, Denmark where they lived while Magnus acquired his masters in civil engineering.

“Sweden and Denmark had ruled Iceland but it has been independent since 1945. Several languages are learned in school so it was easy for Magnus to go to Denmark to study,” said Judith. They left Denmark after three years to return to Winnipeg as Judith’s family was still there and Magnus hadn’t been to Canada yet. Once home Judith began working in the Management Training Program at Eaton’s where she stayed for 19 years.

During this time she was transferred around Canada ending in Toronto as the senior merchant for different departments buying for 78 stores countrywide. Pressed, she admits she spent, “Many dinners with the Eaton brothers and Conrad Black,” who was a family friend and a board member of the company.

At one of those dinners she mentioned a book title to Conrad Black that she was interested in reading. A few days later she received the book from him with a note saying he wanted it back after she read it because he also wanted to read it. In 1990 she left Eaton’s and joined DFS, a group of luxury goods stores throughout Asia that included Cartier, Gucci and Ferragamo and was transferred to Hong Kong.

By this time their sons were 11, 13, and 14 so Magnus left his job and they all moved to Hong Kong where they lived for seven years.

“We loved it. It’s a vibrant, exciting, energetic place that never sleeps. DSF had good relationships with the families of top designers so I got invited to their homes many times”, she said.

In 1997 she was transferred to San Francisco but by then the boys were in university. Judith was now senior management in a huge company that did billions of dollars of business. But by the time the company was purchased by Louis Vuitton she had decided she wanted a break from all the travelling she’d been doing so she and Magnus moved to Fernie.

In 1994 Judith, Magnus and the boys took her mom on an RV trip to Vancouver after her mom expressed an interest in experiencing such a trip. On their way through they were advised to come to Fernie to the Griz Inn Park at the hill, which is what they did.

“When we awoke to the spectacular view we knew this was a place we wanted to stay. Before we left we purchased a condo from Mike Delich and this became our connection to Fernie. Eleven years later when we retired it gave us an opportunity to come and be involved with the community. The more I’m involved the more I love it here.

“When I got a little bored I bought the General Store (Ghostrider Trading Company). My only regret is that I’m not close enough to my kids and grandkids that live in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto. But I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love it here.”

Curious for more information I asked Judith to tell me more on the high powered jobs she has held in the past. Judith said that she met many famous designers like Ferragamo, “I was invited into their homes because DSF had good relationships with these families.” I commented that there is no visible arrogance about her despite a formal education, a strong work experience in influential positions while keeping company with some of the richest people in the world.

“I met people from every strata, all walks of life. I find so much good in people, I enjoy human relations for who they are and what they contribute,” Judith responded. It’s this quality of acceptance I noticed about her when we first met. She pays rapt attention when you speak and her smile extends to her eyes. Judith is an active member of the Official Community Plan Implementation Committee and Quality of Life Sub-Committee. She is on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, board of the Hospital Foundation, board of the Women’s Centre and is a founding member of the Options for Sexual Health Clinic.

She initiated the Fernie Foodies Cookbook for the Women’s Centre and is now working on the Summer Program to bring more vibrancy and visitors to Fernie’s downtown.

“I have been extremely lucky to have a wonderful life, filled with interesting people and a wonderful husband and children,” Judith said. I commented that she has also worked very hard and still continues to do so. Fernie is fortunate to have someone like Judith contributing to the community in so many ways, through her business, her volunteer efforts and her personal dedication to making this town the best possible place to live in.