Barbara Jean Gordon Christiansen, 74, was a kind, gentle, soul, who loved cats and all the shades of purple, particularly lilac and she could call a city council to task with the power of her pen and on the dais.
Christiansen died Friday of a lingering illness, surrounded by her family.
Christiansen was serving as a member of the American Fork City Council at the time of her death. She also was employed part time in the Public Communications Department at Utah Valley University.
Her passion, besides family and cats, was writing and telling the stories of people, places and things around her.
For most of her adult career she was an award-winning staff writer at the American Fork Citizen and then the Daily Herald. She retired from the Herald in early 2016.
She was born on November 11, 1946, in Lakewood, Ohio, the only child of Janet and John Gordon.
Christiansen joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 18 and graduated from Brigham Young University in 1968. She married Steve Christiansen on May 9, 1975, in the Provo Utah Temple. She moved to American Fork in 1978 and lived there until her death.
Barbara was a prominent member of the American Fork community. She served on many city committees and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Fork Chamber of Commerce in 2012.
“Barb and I had a love/hate relationship. She loved cats, and I hated them,” said Doug Fox, managing editor of the Daily Herald. “That might be the only thing we disagreed on. Barb was not only a consummate journalist, but an even better person.
“One could look up the phrase ‘in one who is without guile’ and find her photo. I enjoyed her work for many years at the American Fork Citizen/New Utah, then as a colleague here at the Daily Herald, and finally, in her retirement years no less, in coordinating with her while she was working for UVU,” Fox said.
“I will especially miss her wry, understated sense of humor. I'm sad to think that I will no longer see her name popping up in my inbox with her latest story,” Fox added.
Long before Fox worked with her, Christiansen was knocking out stories for her American Fork Citizen Editor Marc Haddock.
“Barbara was a good friend. We worked together at the American Fork Citizen for more than 20 years,” Haddock said. “For many years she faithfully covered American Fork City government for the Citizen and, later, the Daily Herald.
“Over that time she learned to understand the workings of city government better than some of the elected officials she covered,” Haddock noted. “The transition from reporter to council member is a bit unusual, but Barbara made it seamlessly and brought her years of experience to the council for the benefit of the city. American Fork’s residents have lost a great advocate.”
In fact, over the numerous hours Christiansen covered American Fork City Council meetings, she was preparing to be one of the best and learned councilmembers in the city’s history, according to her colleagues.
While at UVU, Christiansen continued to produce intriguing stories about the people that learn, work and often play at the college.
Scott Trotter, senior director of Marketing/Communications was shocked to hear the news of her passing as he had just spoken to her a few days before and was anticipating her return to work.
“It was an absolute pleasure working with Barbara. She was a gentle, good-hearted, smart, politically astute soul who was very good at writing stories about people and events that engaged all who read them,” Trotter said. “I could always count on her to produce excellent copy on time. Her wry sense of humor combined with word play kept us laughing all the time.”
Trotter added, “She was my friend, but more importantly she felt like family. I will miss her.”
“While others may recall her many notable public accomplishments, I remember her quick wit and caring nature,” said former colleague Cathy Allred.
“She was also willing to occasionally be mischievous -- like the time we went on a three-hour press tour in a National Guard Blackhawk from Salt Lake City to Strawberry Reservoir,” Allred confessed.
“The tour was outside our coverage area, of course; and we later entered our newspaper office only to find our managing editor had returned early from his vacation,” Allred said. “He had left us in charge of our small weekly newspaper and from what he could tell, we had deserted our post. Oh, he was mad. Years later, we still chuckled about our little adventure.
“We got along well,” Allred said. “That was easy with Barbara. The only thing I remember disagreeing with her when we worked as journalists together was which city was better -- her hometown of American Fork or Lehi where I lived.”
After retirement, Christiansen would embrace her community through further service as a councilmember and her continued service on various local auxiliaries. She will be sorely missed, Allred added.
Kurt Hanson, a former Daily Herald writer and city editor said his memories take him back to the punster Christiansen was.
“Barb loved a good pun, and I think she loved making my eyes roll at the more cheesy ones,” Hanson said. “And when she wasn’t stringing together her next play on words, cracking open her morning Diet Coke, or throwing something at me for joking about cats, she was showing true interest and care in the lives of her coworkers and peers.
“Barb gave real attention to detail in her work and attention to the details of others’ issues. I loved working with her and give my condolences to her family,” Hanson added.
Hearing of her passing, the Daily Herald reached out to many of her former colleagues and friends over the years and the number of responses are a testament to the woman Christiansen was.
“I have worked with Barbara for many years with the media, civic events and government, and at UVU -- she was honest, talented, hardworking and a dear friend. Not many of her kind left,” said Linda P. Walton.
Janet Frank, in charge of media relations at Utah Valley Hospital noted, “She was a wonderful lady and a true journalist who always wrote great stories. Loved working with her.”
August Miller, a photographer for UVU worked on many assignments with Christiansen.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Barbara these last few years at UVU. Her wit and word play was very much appreciated,” Miller said. “And her hard work and dedication to the craft of writing greatly enriched and blessed the lives of countless people throughout her career. Such a kind a wonderful person.”
Tiffany Reed, a former colleague at the Daily Herald found a friend in Christiansen.
“We bonded over our love of cats! I love cats, but my husband despises them so we don’t have any. I always joked with her that I might have to trade him in for a cat. She always chuckles at that,” Reed said.
“Her light and love will be greatly missed. She made my time at the Herald brighter.”
As a young reporter, Amy McDonald was keyed into Christiansen's knowledge and gleaned much from her mentoring.
“Oh I love Barb so much. She was my good friend when I was first starting out as a young reporter. My favorite thing about Barb was her love for cats! Cat sweaters, cat calendar, cat everything! I'm so sad she is gone.”
Christiansen is survived by her husband, Steve, and her four children, Scott (Wendy) Christiansen, Paul (Lorana) Christiansen, Mark Christiansen, and Carol (Feron) Bounds as well as 15 grandchildren.
A public viewing will be held Thursday from 6-8 p.m. and again Friday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the LDS chapel at 455 E. 300 North in American Fork. Funeral services will follow at 11 a.m. before interment in the American Fork cemetery. Funeral services also will be broadcast via Zoom with the webinar ID: 928 7306 9719.
To share condolences with the family and read the full obituary, please visit www.warenski.com.