In Loving Memory: Inga Caroline Thommessen
Inga Caroline Thommessen, Odense, Denmark
June 13, 1956 – Dec. 3, 2020
Artist, poet, singer, composer, instrumentalist, philanthropist, and language teacher
Granddaughter of Jonas Lie, American-Norwegian artist, and Inga Lie, ballet dancer, in Norway and America
MARY JO THORSHEIM
Inga Caroline Thommessen died of the coronavirus in Odense, Denmark, where she had lived for more than 39 years. She was born in London in 1956. Her mother was American (the daughter of Norwegian-American artist Jonas Lie), and her father was Norwegian. Her father, Knut Thommessen (1911 – 1981), was an ambassador. The world was her playground as she grew up. Her family lived in various countries as they followed the diplomatic postings of the ambassador. Inga was a citizen of the world and spoke five languages: English, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and Japanese.
Knut Thommessen’s first postings included Norwegian Embassy leadership in London, Bonn, Warsaw, and Montreal. Later, he was appointed ambassador from Norway to Brazil, Japan, and Sweden. He served as Norwegian Consul General for the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York City from 1958 to 1962. When the family lived in New York, Inga and her sister attended the prestigious Nightingale Bamford School for girls, which their mother, Sonja Lie, had also attended. According to the school’s website, Gloria Vanderbilt was among their students from prominent families.
Inga became a teacher. She taught language to immigrants in several schools for over 35 years. She had a reputation for warmth, and her students loved her; her heart “burned for the students.” In Uddannelses Forbundet, she is memorialized by the faculty at the last school where she taught, Fyn in Odense. “Mindeord” refers to the huge vacuum that her loss will mean for her colleagues and students. She will be missed for her constant good humor, smile, laughter, and warm, magical influence on her associates.
Her talents included writing poetry, creating colorful paintings, photographing the “whole world,” composing music, singing, playing guitar, harp, and ukulele. She recorded many CDs. Multi-talented, Inga is described by her sister as “enormously gifted.”
Philanthropic projects included those in many countries, for example a school in Africa, poor children in India, and support for aid to Danish refugees. The “Mindeord” article concludes: “Listen er lang”—“The list is long.”
In summary, Inga lived her life in all corners, traveled extensively, had many friends and close connections to her family. “Verden er blevet fattigere ved at miste dette generøse, uselviske og kærlige menneske.” In other words, the world has become poorer with the loss of this generous, unselfish, and dear human being. (Translated and adapted by Mary Jo Thorsheim Ph.D., May 2021 from “Mindeord” in Uddannelses Forbundet, written by Christina Bartholin HF&VUC Fyn Odense.)
Note from Mary Jo: I knew Inga Thommessen through email correspondence, especially when she was planning a trip to New England to trace the footsteps of her famous grandparents, Jonas and Inga Sontum Lie, in 2019. It was a pleasure to “meet” her and to learn of her sincere interest in her family history, especially the period when Inga Lie was treated for tuberculosis in Saranac, N.Y., and Jonas Lie bought a house there to be near her during her long illness.
Jonas Lie is famous not only for his paintings of NYC, the construction of the Panama Canal, coastal Massachusetts, and Maine, but also in the Adirondack Mountains around Saranac that Inga Thommessen visited many years after his death. Jonas Lie scholar Dina Tolfsby originally put me in touch with the two granddaughters of Jonas Lie. The connection has been warm and helpful in my research. For example, I received copies of photos and documents showing the friendship of Jonas and Inga Lie with Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.