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‘JJ’ gives three decades to city of Kirkland, set to retire today
Members of the community know Janet Jonson as “Janet” when she answers the phone, but those who work for the city or have a strong connection to the city of Kirkland know her simply as “JJ.”
After three decades as executive assistant to the City Manager, Jonson will retire from her position but her nickname will live on at City Hall.
When Jonson started working with the city in 1983 as a clerk/typist, the Director of Office of Administration and Finance asked her if he could give her a nickname.
“We had a lot of Janes, not just Janet,” Jonson said. “I wasn’t the first Janet, there [were] Janices, Junes, Judys -- there were so many J’s and my boss at that time said, ‘Do you mind if I give you a nickname? I’m stumbling all over the people whose names start with J’s.’”
And it stuck for 30 years.
Jonson said JJ was a special nickname designated for city staff and her regular callers.
“My customers evidently liked it too because they have always called me JJ as well, when they got to know me,” she said. “… There was a basketball player that played for the Sonics who also had JJ as his nickname but I’m short and squatty and nothing like a basketball player, so we were never going to be confused.”
Jonson began with the city after she saw an advertisement for a receptionist position. Saving time during her commute was appealing for Jonson, who has lived in the Finn Hill neighborhood for 40 years.
“I knew a lot of our customers we have here, I had met them through other ways, through other schools and activities in the community,” she said. “It felt right.”
Jonson was the City Hall receptionist for a few months before she was promoted to executive assistant for the city manager a short while later.
Jonson said she learned a lot about city governments and the various departments within City Hall, as she had no prior experience.
“One of my first customers called to say a rat appeared in her toilet and she was very upset and I was upset with her,” Jonson recalls. “I learned how that happened and, although I couldn’t give her a whole lot of answers, I could direct her where to go.”
Jonson’s first City Manager she worked for was Al Locke.
She described him as a “real people person” who made her feel welcome.
“Al was a great teacher and a great historian. Our Council members, who had been involved for a long time, also helped me,” she said.
Along with Locke, Jonson went on to work for Terry Ellis, Dave Ramsay, a couple of interim managers in between, and current City Manager Kurt Triplett.
“Having JJ retire from Kirkland is like having Cal Ripken Jr. retire from the Baltimore Orioles,” Triplett said. “It’s a record of excellence and longevity that will never be matched. She is a true legend and she will be missed.”
Jonson said she’ll miss the “city family” the most upon retirement.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve had the pleasure to be here,” she said. “Our staff is wonderful. We all feel like we’re part of a team and we work well together.”
Jonson grew up playing softball in a small community in eastern Washington. She worked in the office of a grocery store her family owned in California while her husband was in the service. Then when her husband was stationed in the military at an Air Force base, she did office work for a Boeing subcontractor construction company.
She moved to Kirkland after her husband landed a job in Seattle and was a stay-at-home mom when her children were born.
Being from a small town, Jonson said she was reluctant to move to western Washington at first but was grateful for the Kirkland’s small town feel.
“It was just going to be different and I was afraid to live in a big city,” she said. “We were fortunate to be on the Eastside.”
But now she describes Seattle as a “friend” and that she enjoys the big city a lot.
Jonson’s three kids grew up in the Finn Hill area, but still considered themselves to be “Kirkland kids.” They went to the Lake Washington schools, used the city facilities and the family shared a Kirkland address, even though they were not within city limits at the time.
One of Jonson’s favorite memories of the Kirkland community is when the city put on a welcome home parade for the 1982 Little League Champions team that her son played on.
“[There were] 40,000 people in downtown Kirkland, the governor spoke and the organizers really put on a wonderful event,” she said. “We all felt so honored. It was wonderful.”
Although Jonson admits to not have any extravagant retirement plans yet, she does look forward to having time to be active in volunteering, bike riding and gardening.
“I’d like to be able to tell you I’m going to take this world cruise, but that’s not exactly true,” she laughs, adding cleaning closets is on her priority list. “I got a new bicycle and I’m planning on riding my bike. It’s not a performance bike, an urban cruiser, so I don’t want anyone to think I’ll be burning up those trails.”
Jonson said she started to check items off her bucket list early in life but has still yet to travel to New York City and Boston, noting Washington DC could use a little more explore-time as well.
Jonson’s last day with the city is on Jan. 3 and the city plans to host a retirement party at the end of January.
“We just think the world of JJ, she’s been absolutely incredible,” Triplett said. “A true treasure for Kirkland and we are so sorry to see her go.”
To say good bye to Jonson email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.