For many years, those passing by the corners of Cornwall Avenue and Magnolia Street on Friday afternoons could expect to see John C. Bromet among the crowd at the weekly Peace Vigil in downtown Bellingham. When people honked in solidarity or flashed the peace sign, he'd do a high kick. More recently, he attended similar vigils at 2 p.m. on Fridays in front of the courthouse in Mount Vernon.
Carrying a sign that simply read “PEACE,” the bearded and beatific Bromet — known to many as “Peace Wizard” — stood out everywhere he went. His trademark sign and jaunty beret drew attention, but he also had a way of engaging with his fellow humans that drew them into conversations about everything from living off the grid (which he did) to music, kindness, universal acceptance and the belief that peace could help heal the world.
Wizard died suddenly Monday, April 3 at age 83 at his close friend GuruBani Whitney's farmstead near Rockport, the result of a suspected coronary event.
When he passed away, it was with the firm belief that his life had been well-lived. Just days before his death, on March 31, Whitney said she took him to a doctor's appointment in Bellingham, and the day continued with visits to the Community Food Co-op, Wonderland Tea, the post office to pick up “love stamps,” then back to Skagit County for the weekly vigil, grocery shopping at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, Pacioni's for lunch and dancing along to his best friend Richard Lewis' band, Undecided.
“He got to talk to people and see everybody,” Whitney said. “I walked with him out to the car and he said, 'I am so loved, I am so happy. I'm 83 years old, and I can honestly say at this point in my life I have no regrets ... I've had a really good life.' ”
Bromet grew up in Idaho. He eventually joined the Marines, married and obtained a degree in education before moving with his family from California to Whatcom County, where he grew potatoes on Hopewell Road near Everson and taught at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation — which he would bike back and forth to daily in an effort to reduce his environmental impact on the planet.
Bromet sings "Peace, love, joy, truth, good, enlightenment of humanity" to the tune of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Ode to Joy, at a protest at Bellingham City Hall in April 2019. The photo was taken for The Front, Western Washington University's student newspaper. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
In time, Bromet and his wife separated, and he retired from teaching to focus more on his mission of spreading peace, advocating for the environment and speaking out against war.
He is survived by his son, Thomas and daughter, Laura, as well his sweetheart, Beth, and numerous friends and acquaintances who remember him as someone who changed their lives.
Inevitably, when asked how he was doing, Wizard would answer, “I'm splendid! I've never been happier, healthier, wealthier, wiser or older ... and I'm still young!”
Whitney — who called Wizard her “adopted grandfather” and said he was the best man at her wedding — noted the cheery refrain continued until his final day, when he replaced “I'm still young” with “I'm tired.” The last memory she has of him is Wizard standing under her 100-year-old apple tree with her dog, waving with his arm above his head to her as she drove away. She waved back, and they both said “I love you! See you later!”
Wizard's landlord, Matthew Van Boven of Feral Farm (and Whitney's ex-husband), said he first met him when Wizard was squatting in an abandoned cabin on the other side of Sauk River across from Van Boven's farm. When the owners got wind of it, they tried to kick him out, and when they wouldn't accept a hand-carved spoon as rental payment, Van Boven convinced Wizard to come to Feral Farm. That fall, Wizard moved into a tiny house Van Boven had built on his property.
Other than stints on Orcas Island and elsewhere, the off-grid abode is where Wizard remained. It's also where close friends were able to come say goodbye and sing under a waxing moon before his body was removed. Per his wishes, his remains will be composted, and the resulting matter will be spread among some of his favorite trees on the property.
“He was a really balancing force on the farm,” Van Boven said. “I'm usually pretty busy, and he loved to sing. He would bring his singing group out there. It was real blessing for me; I could work and hear them sing.”
John Bromet rehearses with the Kulshan Chorus in 2019. The photo was taken for The Front, Western Washington University's student newspaper. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Dustin Willetts, Kulshan Chorus' artistic director for nearly a decade, remembers Wizard, a longtime member of the chorus, as “a calm and gentle light in every room he was in.”
Willetts said at first he couldn't believe Wizard was real, but came to realize he was a one-of-kind person who genuinely cared more for other people than he did for himself. Whether it was young kids, teens or adults, he said Wizard found something to share with or engage in. That was true even when the chorus traveled to other countries — where he always brought along a PEACE sign.
“When he sang, it was with his whole self,” Willetts said. “It wasn't just notes on a page. He loved the arts so much and inspired so many people around him. He had a wonderful baritone voice. He loved singing solos, but loved even more singing in a section and being something greater than himself.”
Willetts said Wizard hadn't rehearsed or performed with Kulshan Chorus since the beginning of the pandemic, but the two would still run into each other while out and about in Bellingham or Mount Vernon. The last time they talked in person was last fall. But even without seeing each other on a regular basis, Wizard's messages have stuck with him.
The main lesson he learned from Wizard was that peace supersedes everything.
“Peace truly is love and is the most important thing," Willetts said. “Not just peace against war, but peace in your life and with your fellow human. Wizard truly understood the meaning of many facets of peace. I'm not sure I'll ever grasp it the way that he did, but I'd like to try."
A celebration of life for John. C. Bromet will take place Saturday, May 13 in Mount Vernon at the Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First St. Time is TBD. For updates, go to weremember.com and search for "Peace Wizard."