All Roads Lead Home

In Memoriam
Helen Hart Momsen

Helen Hart Momsen died late in the evening on Thanksgiving, Thursday November 25th, 2021.

Born in Washington D.C. on January 18th, 1945, Helen was a truly indomitable spirit, a zealot for life from the start. After graduating early from high school, she attended George Mason College (then part of the University of Virginia) where she was the founder and first editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. Years later, after sending four of her six children off to college, Helen returned to George Mason to complete her undergraduate degree. George Mason had become a university in its own right by then, and after earning her Bachelor of Arts– and graduating the same day as her second son– she continued on to her Master of Arts.

Helen was a writer with many published articles and books to her credit, including a book series built around professional embroidery. An adaptive and inspired artist, she could make something stunningly beautiful that was also consummately practical, regardless of the materials at hand. Her handiwork ranged from flags embroidered freehand to custom wedding gowns and even brassieres, peek-a-boo lampshades to early model baby carriers, Christmas ornaments to paintings in pastel, oil, or even her latest obsession, mud. Helen was also a passionate photographer whose ideal evening activity involved a field trip to Skyline Drive to take photos of the sunset, where she pointed out “sun dogs” and “God’s fingers” in the sky. Helen’s interest in photography was longstanding and perfectly suited her eye for the unusual and her openness to the unexpected. Some years ago she awoke in her bedroom to an image projected against the wall, but upside down. In a flash she realized that a small tear in the shade had turned her bedroom into a camera obscura, a giant pinhole camera, and she immediately rushed off to find photographic paper large enough to capture this magical event. She was enamoured by color and by light– rainbows, flowers, sunsets, the Munsell color system– and these figured prominently in all of her art.

A professional embroiderer for over thirty-five years, Helen was a leader and inspiration in her professional community, where she traveled the country to teach seminars on design, craft, technology, artistry, and much more. She was an innovator in the industry, seeing every challenge as an opportunity to create, whether it be custom order forms or (in the early days of the Internet) an online forum for sharing knowledge. Helen was the founder and moderator of the Embroidery Line, a community of which she was enormously proud.

Inventiveness and adventure found their way into every aspect of Helen’s life, including her cooking repertoire, where she whipped up concoctions with results inversely delicious to their everyday ingredients and simple names, like the infamous “glop” or “wound up eggs.” A favorite memory among her elder children centers on an apple tree in the yard and Helen waking early to make each of them an individual apple pie before school in the fall. A powerful pianist, Helen was an improviser at the keyboard as well, and in addition to the dozens of songs she knew by heart and her truly house-shaking Jingle Bell Rock, she created tunes to signal messages to her family (including one just for hurrying everyone up and out the door!) and kept countless lullabies at the ready to sing for anyone in need. Helen was a champion of the underdog, a sucker for a good story, and a true believer that we should begin as we mean to go on and first of all, do no harm. She loved a road trip, even if it had to be short when gas was scarce, and believed all roads lead home. She took any excuse to ride a ferry.

Helen was the daughter of Charles Bowers Momsen Jr., Captain USN Retired, and Helen Marie O’Day Momsen. She was predeceased by her sister, Charlotte Ann Momsen Klein, and is survived by her brother, Charles Bowers Momsen III. She is survived by six children– Trevor Johnson; Beau Johnson; Rebecca Johnson, Colonel, US Army Retired; Holly Munday; Brendan Momsen; and Jenna Johnson. She is also survived by nine adored grandchildren.

Helen has been described as a lion, a life force, a fighter, a champion, an “Anne O’Malley” (her own riff on anomaly). She had an enormous heart and an unforgettable spirit, and it is certain that there will never be another like her. She will be missed deeply and daily, and we hope to honor her life by embracing all the marvels and joys this world lays so blithely at our feet. Let not a day pass without celebrating the great wonders around us and, highest among them, that we had a chance to know her.

“If our friendship depends on things like space and time, we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don’t you think that we might see each other once or twice?” — Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Donations in her memory can be made to the USS Albacore Museum: