From The Icelandic Horse Quarterly, Issue 3, 2002
In Memory of Frida Gudmundsdottir
by Chuck Fergus
Frida Gudmundsdottir, a citizen of Iceland, lived in the United States for only a short time but nevertheless impressed those who met her with her generosity, friendliness, riding skill, and knowledge of Icelandic horses. Frida died in Iceland on December 20, 2001, of complications from a brain tumor. She was 34 years old. She was the wife of Saevar Leifsson; the mother of three young children; and a doctor specializing in pediatric rheumatology. Marjorie Bedinger became close to Frida here in the United States. Marjorie and her husband, Jim, in their sixties, own Constant Effort Farm near Fair Hill, Maryland, where they breed and train Icelandics. Lanny Carroll of Northstar Farm in New Lebanon, Ohio, knew Frida and Saevar through mutual friends in Iceland. In November 1999, Lanny introduced them to Marjorie and Jim, who had bought their first Icelandics from Northstar; at that time, Frida was finishing a pediatric residency in Hartford, Connecticut. When Frida received a fellowship at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, Marjorie and Jim helped her and Saevar find a property in the area large enough to keep horses on. Frida and Saevar bought a house with five acres about 30 miles from Constant Effort Farm. Saevar, who had been in the construction business in Iceland, built a six-stall barn on the property -- “big enough to hold six Icelandics,” Marjorie recalls with a smile, “not six thoroughbreds.” Frida and Saevar imported around ten Icelandics to their Istolt Farm, including some consignment horses, and sold several. Sometimes they rode with the Bedingers at Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, a 5,600-acre site owned by the state of Maryland with many miles of bridle trails. It was at Fair Hill that I got to know Frida (I’d spoken with her over the phone earlier), in April 2001, at a clinic she and Marjorie organized. The weekend included lessons by Icelandic riding instructors Jon Petur Olafsson and Sigrun Brynjarsdottir, a fun competition, trail rides, and a dinner of traditional Icelandic food -- including lamb which Saevar ingeniously charcoaled in a wheelbarrow. I must admit that the first time I spoke to Frida, I had not created a good impression. The phone had rung at home, and the woman on the line asked for Nancy Brown. Nancy is my wife; for some reason I misinterpreted the call as a telemarketing attempt and gruffly stated, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept telephone solicitations.” A pause, during which I almost hung up. “That’s very rude,” the woman commented. “Because actually I wanted to talk about Icelandic horses.” When I finally met Frida and apologized again for my rudeness, she just grinned and said, “Now that I’ve been here for a while and gotten those sorts of phone calls, I understand why you were grumpy!” Marjorie Bedinger characterizes Frida as “enthusiastic, intelligent, and a really sweet person. She was a genuinely fine young woman and a wonderful ambassador for both Icelandic culture and the Icelandic horse. We got along really well despite the difference in our ages. I guess you could say Frida was a cross between a daughter, a little sister, and a best friend.”I had a chance to watch Frida and Saevar ride in competition at the Northeast Gaited Horse Show in Dillsburg, PA, in October 2000. A horsewoman since her youth, Frida rode her stallion Hrokur with obvious competence and skill. Her three children were in attendance: Birta, Viktor, and Leifur, all under age ten. Three months later, Frida was diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery twice in the United States, but the tumor proved to be inoperable. While the Dillsburg show was taking place in October 2001, Frida, critically ill, was on her way home to Iceland, with the Icelandic government generously paying the airfare for the trip. The government also underwrote the airfare for Saevar and for Yr Laufey Siguardardottir (who was the doctor on board). It’s hard to know what to do or say when a vital, accomplished person is revealed to have a fatal disease. Even before Frida passed away, Marjorie Bedinger had begun an effort at raising money to help Frida and her family. Lanny Carroll donated a foal sired by Kolskeggur, a stallion bred by Saevar in Iceland and now owned by Northstar. Many people bought chances in the raffle, and others donated directly to the fund set up in Frida’s name. Sarah Jones of Pine Plains, N.Y., won the foal, a filly that was subsequently sold to Marsha Newman of Stephens City, VA, and the proceeds donated to the fund. Martina Gates of Tolt News designed the raffle tickets and donated a mailing to all of the magazine’s subscribers, and Terri Malec of Marysfield Studio donated an oil painting of an Icelandic. Ultimately, $10,000 were raised for Saevar, Birta, Viktor, and Leifur. Gudmundur Gudmundsson, Frida’s brother, wrote: “On behalf of the whole family, I wish to express our warmest thanks and deep gratitude to all who contributed to the fundraiser for Frida and her family. It is hard to find words to express our thankfulness, but you are all in our prayers. When we told Frida about the fund, although she could no longer speak, we could see in her eyes that she was deeply touched.” Jim and Marjorie bought the stallion Hrokur, as well as Snudur, a spirited gelding that Saevar and Frida had imported from Iceland. Saevar Leifsson and the children are now at Gimli u/Alftanesveg, 210 Gardabae, Iceland.