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Bryndís Víglundsdóttir – February’s Interesting Icelander

Updated: Feb 21

This month, we honor one of our own. Bryndís Viglundsdóttir volunteers her time with Icelandic Roots as a writer, translator, and educator. She will celebrate her 90th birthday on February 22nd.


To many, Bryndís has many roles: mother, amma, langamma, friend, teacher, advisor, author, translator, volunteer, teammate, and mentor. I have had many mentors, but none as significant as Bryndís. The best mentors have a gift of caring and serving others, which Bryndís exemplifies. Bryndís is someone you can talk to and trust. She has ears that listen, a brain to convey positive ideas, and a heart full of compassion. Add to this the experience of a teacher who encourages, helps to seek solutions, provides opportunities, encourages, and inspires. She is a treasure, and we are honored to choose her for February's Interesting Icelander.

 

 The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”  — Steven Spielberg

  

Bryndís has worked hard for causes that she has believed in. Her volunteer contributions and community projects through the decades are immeasurable. Many of you enjoy listening to Bryndís in our various Icelandic Roots events or reading articles and stories she has written. To understand the depth of character we see in Bryndís, let’s first learn tidbits about her life.


A baby girl is born.

On the 22nd of February, 1934, on Laugavegur 70, Reykjavík, the third daughter was born to Margrét and Viglundur. They named her Bryndís. Her father went to the East Fjords when he was only fourteen years old to find work so he could provide for his parents, Guðmundur Sigurðsson and Þóranna Þorsteinsdóttir, and his younger sisters. His father, Guðmundur, was a fisherman as a young man but was stricken with the Spanish Flu in 1918 at the age of 40. He never fully recovered.


Later, Viglundur moved to Reykjavík and worked as a taxi driver. At that time, there were five taxis in Reykjavík. The drivers wore a uniform and the job was well paid.


Margrét and Víglundur were married in 1929. Eventually, there was enough money for Víglundur to buy a house in Reykjavík, with his parents, who sold their house in Stokkseyri. Together, they all lived on Laugavegur 70 for the rest of their lives.


Guðmundur Sigurðsson og Þóranna Þorsteinsdóttir

Guðmundur, the afi (grandfather) of Bryndís, managed a small store in the basement. He was an orphan for most of his young life and was not treated kindly. He remembered that and always treated poor people and the many who were struggling with problems with kindness and compassion. (1)


Bryndís said, "I often stood in a corner of his store and listened to him visiting with the people who told him their problems. No one left his store empty-handed, even if they had no money to pay for what they needed. Many families were struggling in those days to pay for food. Those conversations have stayed with me all these years."


A modern turf house where Bryndís lived as a young child.

World War II

A very significant event happened when Bryndís was six years old. On May 10, 1940, British soldiers invaded Iceland as part of World War II. The next year, the defense of Iceland was transferred to American troops. This was a consequential time for the people of Iceland with the extreme changes and turmoil. Bryndís wrote about it in an important article on this website. (2)


On June 17, 1944, Iceland formally became an independent republic. Bryndís was ten years old and in attendance at the Independence Celebration at Þingvellir. (3) Links to these articles are at the end of this article.


Þingvellir 17 Jun 1944 - courtesy of the Árni Magnússon Institute

To America and Back

Fast forward to a young woman graduating from school in Iceland, where she received a scholarship to attend the University of Northern Iowa. This caused some anxiety for her family, but Bryndís knew this was a path she wanted to take.



In 1959, at the end of her first year, she was invited by two professors to travel the country. Bryndís has shared with me the stories of her great adventures where she entered the Grand Canyon, stood by the great Sequoias, and walked in a petrified forest. She had two more scholarships in the years after.



In 1961, Bryndís was studying at Boston University how to teach the deaf and blind. She was also a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind during these years. She was often asked to give presentations. The photo below is taken in Boston at one such event.



She married Guðmundur in 1962 and they both moved to Boston.



Their son was born in Boston and they returned to Iceland.


Grímur and Guðmundur with the little lambs

The family moved back again to Boston, where their daughter was born.




From 1968-1972, Bryndís taught at the Perkins School for the Blind. These various experiences and meeting people with unique gifts, talents, and challenges changed her life. Many times, Bryndís and I have discussed the abilities and gifts we are born with. She truly believes and lives her life with gratitude and sharing her abilities with others. We always discuss how to help others, see life through their experiences, and what circumstances life has thrown at them.


When Bryndís returned to Reykjavík, she lived her life as a teacher and became the Principal of the Developmental Therapy School and worked in this career for over twenty years. She translated the books: Fingramál – Finger Language, In This Sign by Alice Greenberg, and The Autobiography of Golda Meir. Since then, she has been writing, translating, educating, and mentoring many people, including me. Bryndís received the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon on 01 Jan 1989 from then President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.


Her Accomplishments are Many

In her life, Bryndís has fond memories of many activities. One of them is music and singing in Icelandic choirs. Another talent that brings Bryndís much joy is knitting and other crafts. She usually makes her own designs and patterns. She said recently, "Being bored simply is not and never has been in my vocabulary." I am so lucky to have received many beautiful knitted items from Bryndís.























The list of her achievements and talents is very long. I became a friend of Bryndís shortly after starting Icelandic Roots in 2013. Since then, we have implemented many of her ideas, projects, and presentations. One project that we worked to implement was called Snorri Deaf. The memories associated with this project are unforgettable. Here is Bryndís teaching at a conference we held at The Deaf Association in Iceland. (6)



Bryndís is an active member of the Icelandic Roots Writing Team with other published authors and is a valuable translator from English to Icelandic and vice versa. She has taught us so much in Samtal Hours and other educational seminars. By typing in her first name in the IR website search box, you can read many of the articles she has authored.


Recently, Bryndís teamed up with Gay Strandemo and Tracy Will to publish three children´s books. Icelandic Roots is pleased to be publishing her children’s books. First, there was Guðríður’s Saga, and next was Mundi, Boy of Iceland's West Fjords. This month, Thor will be released. All three were a collaboration with illustrator, Gay Strandemo and Will Publishing.



See their books here. (4) In September, we were together for a wonderful time.


Tracy, Gay, Sunna, and Becky with Bryndís and part of her family in Sep 2023

Bryndís treats each person with dignity. She believes that each person has limitless potential and we can overcome our challenges. She fosters an open-minded, safe and meaningful experience with each person she encounters while challenging them to see beyond false and self-limiting beliefs.


Lang Amma Bryndís

Bryndís lives her life daily with optimism, a pure heart, and what she can do to better this world. She continues to grow, learn, and be productive each day. She inspires us all to reach beyond the normal and to see the possibilities of what can be. We are all blessed beyond reason to know her. I am so very thankful that Bryndís is a part of my life and the Icelandic Roots community.


The IR Community Samtal Hour for Monday, February 26th, will feature Bryndís. She has written an article in our Icelandic Roots newsletter entitled “What about the Vikings?” We encourage you to read this article and be prepared to comment or ask Bryndis any questions you may have. Click on the title to access the story.


To read more:

1. Read a short happy birthday message, in Icelandic, about her Afi, Guðmundur, and how he always supported and advocated for his neighbors, animals, and all he could. 12 Dec 1952. Morgunblaðið. Page 5. https://timarit.is/page/1287470 

2.      Read the story Bryndís wrote about the war years in Iceland when she was a child:  https://www.icelandicroots.com/post/2014/11/11/the-war-years-in-iceland-through-the-eyes-of-a-child

3.      This is the story from Bryndís about her attendance at the Independence Celebration at Þingvellir on June 17, 1944, at 10 years old. https://www.icelandicroots.com/post/the-independence-celebration-at-þingvellir-june-17-1944

4.      Learn more and order books written by Bryndís Viglundsdóttir: https://theyuleboys.com/ or find them on Amazon.

5.      An article in Icelandic about Bryndís: 27 Nov 1983. Page 77. Morgunblaðið. https://timarit.is/page/1584137

 

To find out if you are related to Bryndís, find her in the Icelandic Roots Database as I45289. Remember to come to Samtal on the 26th.


Happy 90th Birthday on February 22nd to Bryndís! Best wishes today and always!



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