Sonja Biorn-Hansen

Date of Birth

October 21st, 1957

Date of Death

February 6th, 2016

Memorial Meeting

Multnomah Friends Meeting


Sonja was born October 21, 1957, in Boston Massachusetts. She spent school years 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 pond. 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 majoring in mechanical engineering at Cornell University, she became passionately 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. She made deep, lasting friendships with fellow students and rowers.

After graduation Sonja moved to the Bay Area, where she carried out commercial energy audits as part of PG&E’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 a variety of sustainable living technologies. She also made her lifelong commitment to commuting by bicycle at that time.  During her years in facilities management on the UC-Berkeley campus she made her mark by cleaning up Strawberry Creek and mapping the utilities, thus saving the university millions of dollars in pointless and often destructive excavations.

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

Sonja was a lifelong truth seeker and truth teller; the latter especially did not always endear her to others. But she did not see the truth as a weapon for getting her way, or as a final destination defined by her. 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 shined 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 the communities of which she formed a part.  Sonja was a strong, authentic voice for children and the environment in Multnomah Monthly Meeting and the wider world.  She is missed greatly.

Sonja is survived by her daughter Pei; her father and stepmother, Peter and Kathleen Griffith; her sister and brother-in-law, Kat Griffith and Soren Hauge; and numerous cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and “the grandkids!”