I will 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 who regularly attended Edmonds Town Council meetings. One night Harry introduced himself to me.
Harry explained that as a resident of Edmonds he had a keen interest in municipal government and a passion for civic engagement. I soon discovered that he was not only very intelligent, he also knew how to write. By the time I met Harry, I was juggling a full-time job in downtown Seattle while trying to run my new news site, and I can honestly say that without Harry’s help during those early days. years, I would not have succeeded. Later he also became the accountant for my company.
Every now and then Harry would cover city council meetings when I couldn’t get home from work in Seattle on time or had some other conflict. He also helped me enter the world of video, assisting with video recordings of candidate events.
Harry passed away on November 20, 2020, after facing – and overcoming multiple times – multiple health issues related to diabetes. His memorial service was postponed due to COVID, but ultimately took place on Friday August 20 at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. During the service, I learned a lot about Harry’s background that I didn’t know before.
Harry was born on July 20, 1954 to Harry and Isabelle Gatjens. The family had just moved from Queen Anne Hill to Alderwood Manor, and he joined his brother John, sister Linda and brother Richard, forming a family of six. He attended grades 1 through 4 at Alderwood Manor Elementary School and completed elementary school at Spruce Elementary School, where his mother was the school secretary. It was during his elementary years that Harry developed his love for all things hydroplane – and he and his brothers could be found pulling or doing wooden mini hydros behind their bikes. run in a small pool in the family garden.
Harry attended college 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, where he graduated in 1976. He received his Masters of Commerce in 1978.
He has worked at various companies during his career including Pirate’s Plunder, Kawaguchi Travel, My Favorite Shoe Company, Marsh & McLennan, Conversay and Metafos.
Harry bought a 1/8 scale rc seaplane, originally the Miss Jif, and then “finally and forever” – according to his family – raced with the Miss Budweiser. He has befriended many seaplane greats over the years, including Bernie Miller, Chip Hanauer and other pilots, owners and crew.
During the service it was my great joy to share memories of all the contributions 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 various government matters. To remind myself of how hard Harry wrote, I returned 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 – mainly for the city’s candidates running for office – which took place at his favorite Edmonds restaurant, Chanterelle. Owner Brooke Baker gave us a corner of the dining room for residents to gather, along with free coffee, and Harry would serve as the moderator, asking a series of questions and also facilitating a discussion with attendees.
Harry was truly a Renaissance man when it came to the subjects he wanted to write about. As an accountant, he understood the numbers and therefore naturally wrote on the city budget. Unsurprisingly, he had a passion for seaplane racing, and from 2011 until his passing he covered these races as well. In fact, we used to joke that we were the only publication in the United States that offered regular coverage of seaplane racing, following the action all over the world. He had many readers who came to My Edmonds News just to read his hydroelectric reports.
But perhaps one of the most memorable stories for me is a story Harry wrote in December 2012 about a woman named Paula.
Harry loved to play poker and he met Paula at a Shoreline casino. The story began like this:
Paula Perez passed away 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 had happened when her boyfriend Mike saw my number on her phone and called me to tell me that she had passed away. He said she spoke about me positively as a friend.
I met Paula a few years ago at a restaurant at a local Shoreline casino. She looked exhausted and disheveled but was swallowing a meal. I spoke with her to find out her story and found out that she was an Aurora Avenue prostitute.
She had been a drug addict, had bad teeth, was not particularly attractive, and looked like she had lived a very hard life. She was quite open about her lifestyle and seemed to be, on the whole, a pleasant person.
Food in the restaurant was inexpensive and the location was convenient for where she practiced her trade. I came to talk to her whenever I saw her and always showed her concern and respect. She seemed to appreciate my concern even though I was not a customer.
In his story, Harry recounted that he once gave Paula money for food and later found out that she had used it for drugs. From then on, he would bring her a meal or some groceries or make a payment for a room for her.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the skills to provide her with the help she needed to resolve her addiction,” Harry wrote. “I tried to put her in touch with services that could help her, but until she was ready to make her own efforts, my attempts were unsuccessful.
“As we spoke, I learned a bit about his past. Abused as a child and abandoned by her parents and family, she found herself on the streets at the age of 17. Drugs became a part of her life soon after, and she took a long downhill journey from that point on.
“Ostracized for her profession, she made some friends who would make an effort to help her change her life. Combined with the lack of family to support, Paula had nowhere to go.
Several months after this story appeared, Harry was contacted by the adoptive parents of Paula’s two daughters, who were released to Washington state at the time of their respective births. The parents had wanted to learn more about Paula so that they could provide their daughters with more information about her, and Harry caught up with them to share everything 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 children born under the worst circumstances and gave them the opportunity to become exceptional. They inspire me.
Harry inspired me. He had physical difficulties that sometimes prevented him from using his computer and even later from moving, but he never said no to a mission and never lost his sense of humor. Most importantly, he maintained a deep love not only for his community but for humanity.
I will never forget him.
– Teresa Wippel, editor