RIP, Marie Johnson

(Credit: Foothill Flowers)

This past Monday, I received an email that I’d been dreading for a while — but had been preparing for. It was from our friend Mark Johnson, who said that his 87-year old mother Marie — Grass Valley’s beloved “Flower Lady” to all of us — was winding down. We spoke on the phone for some time. I knew it would only be a matter of time.

On Facebook, word of Marie’s condition began to leak out later in the week. Her friends were visiting her bedside. I felt comforted to read that. I discussed Marie’s condition with our family, and we all said prayers for her, along with Mark and his brother Todd.

This morning, Marie, 87, passed away. Like much of Grass Valley and Nevada City, we all will miss her.

We have been regulars at Foothill Flowers for a decade, and Marie was like a grandmother to our son after his own grandmother died in 2007. Marie would greet him in the flower shop with a big smile, “Hi Mitchell!” — and often a handful of suckers or M&Ms.

Our son came to anticipate an annual “back to school” flower bouquet that had Marie’s special touch — a porcelain sports car filled with fresh and colorful flowers. In subsequent years, we brought the toy car into the shop for a “refill” each September.

(Credit: Doris Foley Historical Library and

For my wife and I, Marie helped fill a void after we lost our own parents. We shared stories, and I learned about her upbringing. She was an inspiring single mom and entrepreneur, opening her flower shop in downtown Grass Valley in 1966.

Like others, we enjoyed gathering at Marie’s annual Santa Lucia festival at the flower shop in December and learned about her Scandinavian heritage. We met the Johnson’s friends, including author Gage McKinney, one of my favorite people. It was a quintessential small-town experience.

We also talked flowers with Marie. My mom taught me to admire fresh bouquets of flowers. I told Marie about my favorite florist when I was growing up — Jacob Maarse in Pasadena — and was thrilled when I learned that Todd regularly decorated floats in the Rose Parade. It was like reliving a joyful part of my childhood as an adult in Grass Valley.

Earlier in the week, Mark shared with me that Marie would be buried next to her daughter in Greenwood Memorial Cemetery in Grass Valley. (Beth died in a 1976 car accident, when she was a junior at NU).

A celebration of live is planned at Foothill Flowers on September 15, and the historic building will be filled with admiring friends and family members.

The Union’s obituary about Marie is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

5 thoughts on “RIP, Marie Johnson”

  1. From Pinky Zalkin:
    The death of Marie Johnson is not only a sad day for Mark and Todd, but also a great loss to our community 😞 Marie will always occupy a special place in my heart. I can’t think of one time she ever turned me down when asked to donate flowers for an event I was working on. I can remember phone banking for one campaign or another in the back of the shop and marveling at the arrangements, the fragrances and the kindness, generosity and warmth Marie always showed. She will be missed by many.

  2. Well said Pinky! So many people expressed their condolences from this post on Facebook:

    Julie Gerngross Baker
    Julia Jordan
    Roseanne Burke
    Neil Sarchett
    Louis Valentine Johnson
    B Douglas Jensen
    Amy Lisette Cooke
    Carla Bonetti
    Cindy Maple
    Larry Miller
    Cari Dawson Bartley
    Robin Wallace
    Sandy Escobar

  3. Karin Berglund Kleinhans: Marie was a lovely Swedish lady with a gift of helping others celebrate life’s special occasions with nature’s beautiful flowers! She will be sorely missed among the Scandinavians! Her Santa Lucia celebration was so meaningful on so many levels!

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