Gettysburg College Honorary Life Trustee Edwin T. Johnson ’51 passes away



Gettysburg College Honorary Life Trustee Edwin T. Johnson ’51 passed away Aug. 23, 2012 at his home in Newtown, Pa., following a 22-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 82.

A service is planned at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 at Newtown Presbyterian Church, 25 N. Chancellor St., Newtown, Pa.

"If we had a Gettysburg Mount Rushmore, he'd be there," said College Trustee Emeritus Bruce R. Stefany '71. "To paraphrase our Alma Mater: Forever are we his debtor."

In 1993, Johnson and his wife of 60 years established the College’s Edwin T. ’51 and Cynthia (Shearer) ’52 Johnson Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities.

“To say that the Johnsons are ‘extremely supportive’ doesn’t come close to the mark,” English Prof. Christopher Fee, a former holder of the chair, said recently. “They are wildly enthusiastic about the College. The generosity of spirit and unfailingly upbeat attitude of Ed and Cindy Johnson speak volumes about their personal characters and their devotion to their alma mater. The Johnson Chair is a marvelous legacy.”

Ed and Cindy JohnsonBut it is only one part of Ed Johnson’s extensive legacy of dedication to Gettysburg College, which recognized him in 2000 with its Lavern H. Brenneman Award for Exemplary Service. At the fall 2010 Board of Trustees meeting, he was elected an honorary life trustee.

He joined the Board of Trustees in 1977 and subsequently served as vice-chair and chair.

"I was fortunate to have known Ed as a trustee, having served with him on our board just after his conclusion as chair," Stefany said. "His business background made us the board we are today. But, most of all, I remember Ed as the ongoing scholar, the perennial student. When on the board, he gave all of us Peter Drucker's Managing The Non-profit Organization with Ed's typed synopsis of the book. I wish I had asked him to sign it — Ed, of course. I still have both."

Johnson also chaired the search committee that recruited Gordon Haaland as the College’s 12th president. In 1979 and 1980 he was the Annual Giving chair, and chaired the Executive Committee for the Sharing a Distinctive Vision campaign for Gettysburg, which began in 1988 and raised over $75 million. He was a board member of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, awarded annually by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to recognize the best new books about the Civil War era.

Twelve members of his family have attended the College, including son E. Thomas Johnson, Jr. ’76 and granddaughter Sarah Johnson ’09.

After graduating from the College in 1951, he went on to the Wharton School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1954 he founded the Johnson Companies, a benefits and compensation consulting firm that gained national recognition in 1980 for developing 401(k)s, the nation’s first savings plan that allowed employees to invest pre-tax income into a retirement fund. The Johnson Companies were sold in 1991, which then had offices from Boston to Washington, D.C. and 420 employees. He was also a founder of Johnson Kendall & Johnson, Inc., which began in 1959 and continues to provide insurance brokerage and risk management services.

He was active in many industry groups including serving as the first president of the Top of the Table, an elite group of the Million Dollar Round Table, and in 1987 was president of the Association of Advanced Life Underwriters.

He was an active supporter of educational, religious, civic and scientific organizations.

He was ordained as an elder of the Newtown Presbyterian Church and as a Stephen minister, and most recently was a leader of a career networking group for unemployed individuals from the church and community. He served the Presbytery of Philadelphia and as trustee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation of Louisville, Ky.

He was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s, and in 1964 was a founding member of the Newtown Improvement Association, which helped achieve decent housing and improved racial relations. In 2005, he helped establish the Friends of St. Mark to support St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church of Newtown in its mission of social change and equality.

His civic work continued in Newtown in the late 60s with the start of St. Mary Hospital. He was a member of the Founders Council, formed in 1967, to promote the cause of building the hospital. He was the first lay chairman of St. Mary Hospital, and most recently served on the St Mary Foundation planned giving council.

He served on the Board of Governing Trustees of The Jackson Laboratory of Bar Harbor, Maine from 1996 to 2006. The laboratory honored the Johnsons with its Philanthropy Award at its 2010 Annual National Council dinner.

He was a native of Bucks County, Pa., growing up on family farms and attending Fallsington High School.

He is survived by his wife; children E. Thomas Johnson, Jr. and his wife Joyce M. Sullivan of Hingham, Mass., and Rebecca J. Kerchner and her husband Kevin H. Kerchner of Newtown, Pa.; grandchildren Mark Johnson, Sarah Johnson and Anna Kerchner; step-grandchildren Katherine Kerchner, Sarah Kerchner and Abby Gannon; brother David R. Johnson of Newtown; sister-in-law MaryAnn S. Craver of Gettysburg; and nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in his memory to The Jackson Laboratory, Attention Penny Fox, P.O. Box 254, Bar Harbor, ME 04609. Information is at www.jax.org.

To share memories of him, visit www.lifecelebration.com.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Jim Hale, associate director of editorial services

Posted: Wed, 29 Aug 2012

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