Mr. Johnson grew up in Albemarle County. The son of a minister, he chose to attend Hampden-Sydney College after high school because of its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church. He began his teaching career in Covington, Virginia in 1937.
In 1942, he entered the U. S. Navy’s officer candidate school in New York and was commissioned as an ensign in 1943. He served as a gunnery officer aboard a navy transport ship in the Pacific theater and saw combat during the Mariana Islands campaign.
He returned to public education as a teacher and high school principal following the war while completing his master’s degree at the University of Virginia.
Mr. Johnson has been described as quiet and calm, patient but grounded in a belief in justice and fairness, and reluctant to call undue attention to himself.
His son Lee, Handley Class of 1969, recently stated that there was no uncertainty on his father’s part that he had been hired by the Winchester School Board in 1965 to accomplish what had not been achieved to that point, namely, the complete racial desegregation of the school system. He was guided by what he believed his faith and his oath to the Constitution as a naval officer called on him to do.
Mr. Johnson stated that his plan was to desegregate the school system within a year. He approached the challenges of his new job with patience, compassion and a well-developed capacity to listen.
While Superintendent, he did more than fully desegregate the school system in relatively short order. He helped the system successfully accommodate 800 additional students when the city annexed a portion of Frederick County in 1970. He initiated a partial day kindergarten program, planned and built a new John Kerr Elementary School and a new Daniel Morgan Middle School in the early 1970s, and cooperated with Clarke County and Frederick County public schools to open Dowell J. Howard as a regional vocational technical center. He expanded physical education programs system-wide, developed written curriculum guides in all subject areas and achieved the full accreditation of all city schools by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.