Inga Bjorg Arna Bildsfell Tjio, a longtime local resident and wife of renowned geneticist Joe Hin Tjio, died May 31 of a cerebral hemorrhage after a brief illness at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Gaithersburg. She was 85.
Born Nov. 5, 1919, in Iceland, Mrs. Tjio was raised in Denmark, where she attended schools and took lessons in piano, ballet and horseback riding.
She studied botany and geology at the University of Copenhagen and earned a master’s degree in natural history in 1947 after she wrote a thesis on a geological formation in Iceland. She was a life member of the Gem, Lapidary and Mineral Society of Washington, D.C.
In 1948, she married Dr. Tjio and pursued doctoral studies at the University of Lund in Sweden, where her husband was conducting research at the Institute of Genetics.
After the birth of her son in 1955, she retired from academia to devote her life to being a wife and mother.
She and Dr. Tjio came to the United States in 1958, when Dr. Tjio was invited to join the National Institutes of Health after he had discovered the correct number of chromosomes in the normal human cell, one of the great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century.
Dr. Tjio liked to be within walking distance of his laboratory, and the Tjios lived on the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health from 1959 to 1997. Their apartment became a haven for international scientists and researchers studying genetics.
The Tjios traveled throughout the world, for pleasure and for Dr. Tjio to visit various laboratories and universities with which he was affiliated in Europe and the Far East.
They both spoke several languages — Mrs. Tjio was fluent in Icelandic, Danish, German, French, Spanish and English — and maintained a circle of friends around the world. Their apartment was filled with books and the sounds of classical music and opera, which Mrs. Tjio loved.
Mrs. Tjio and her husband moved to Asbury Methodist Village, a retirement complex in Gaithersburg, in 1997. He died in 2001.
She is survived by her son, Yu-Hin Tjio of Silver Spring.
A celebration of her life is scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 7 in the Rosborough Center at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, followed by a reception.