Swede of the Year? Leif Eie honored by Seattle Swedes

Leif Eie

Photo: Kristine Leander
Leif Eie, “Swede” of the Year, poses next to the official portraits of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden at the Swedish Club.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

Everyone who knows Leif Eie, longtime Seattle resident, former airline executive, and loyal supporter of the Scandinavian-American community, admires him for his many accomplishments and unparalleled kindness and generosity. May 22 has been designated “Leif Eie Day” by the City of Seattle, and in 1988, King Olav V awarded him with the honor of “Norwegian of the Year.” Eie was decorated as a knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, as well as with an Honor Medal and the Order of St. Olav Medal. There were more awards and honors over the years, nearly too many to enumerate.

Indeed, few Norwegian immigrants have done as much as Leif to support their community. Most notably, Leif Eie started the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and was a founding member of the Nordic Museum. But “Swede” of the Year? Even Leif, a native of Flekkefjord, Norway, was surprised when the announcement came at the National Day celebration at Seattle’s Swedish Club on Friday, June 8.

As his photograph was unveiled as the announcement made, Leif jokingly asked, “Do I have to change my passport?” His smiling face and humor have always been one of his greatest assets. Upon accepting the award, he even wondered if he should enroll in Swedish classes at a university extension program. He was told, of course, that he could get his Swedish lessons right there at the Swedish Club, as everyone roared in laughter.

But it was no joke that Eie, although a proud Norwegian, was given the award. Kristine Leander, Swedish Club Executive Director, explained that the selection is based on a member’s generosity of spirit, to the volunteer or donor who has given the most. And there Eie stood out among nearly 1,300 club members. Over the years, he has listened to where the needs have been and made generous donations where they have mattered. Eie also holds a key position as treasurer of the Swedish Club Foundation Board, which oversees an endowment-style fund for the benefit of the organization. Most of all, he is always present at key events and on Friday evenings, where he enjoys the authentic Scandinavian cuisine and Nordic entertainment. He has even been known to join in on a song now and then, always the life of the party.

Eie came to the United States in the early 1950s with literally nothing. He started working as a ticket agent for Scandinavian Airlines Systems and after not too long was promoted to sales manager. In 1965 he became the district sales manager for SAS in Seattle, and in 1970 he served as the company’s northwestern area manager until he retired in 1991. There were many adventures that followed with time in Mexico and Arizona, before he finally returned to Seattle after the loss his beloved wife, Pat.

Fortunately for us, Eie has written a book, Modern-Day Viking: The Traveling Tales of a True Norwegian, in which we can follow him from his childhood during World War II, through his successful career with the airline business, up to his retirement days. It is a must-read for anyone looking for some history, humor, and good Nordic inspiration and is available to order online through Amazon.

Knowing Eie personally, I am sure that we haven’t heard the last of him. At age 88, he continues to mentor, support, and inspire us all. And, yes, I think we will have to share him with the Swedes, too!

Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and community activist based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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