Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Extended-family loss: Franklin Johnson

Franklin Johnson, former professor of physics at Monmouth College and member of our extended (faculty) family, passed away yesterday from a massive stroke. He was 89.

I heard little bits and pieces about his life, off and on, over the years. I wish I could say I knew more; I wish I could say I'd known him better -- but he was my parents' generation, so remained mostly a mystery to me, as do most from generations before us.

Dr. Johnson was born in Canada, obtained his college degree right before WWII, and, when duty called, he was made an officer. Because he owned his own motorcycle, he served as courier between generals (and, I am told, did much more which remained undiscussed among the uninitiated). He didn't have much positive to say about Patton or Monty, in later years -- in fact, it was proposed by one who knew Franklin that, if a person wanted to revive him this past week with the fury of an avenging angel, one might simply go to Dr. Johnson's hospital bedside and say the name, "Patton".

Most of my early memories of Dr. Johnson were on campus -- that is to say, I recall visiting my daddy at his office, Franklin being there, the two men laughing uproariously. The Johnsons came to Monmouth College only a short time before us, but I always got the sense that Franklin was, to a small degree, something of a mentor to Dad, paving his way, as much as he was simply a friend in physics and beyond. It seems to me, there has always been a faint hint of hero-worship about Dad as he spoke of Franklin Johnson.

But somehow, it ended up as straightforward friendship and trust between the men, and the wives were eventually swept up in the tide of fellowship.

In later years, there was a bit more socializing for the rest of us -- their youngest son, Blake, was my classmate from junior high school forward, and on the Monmouth High School swim team (he mostly stayed a diver, my brother was a swimmer, and I went to nearly every meet as a timer... back when most pools didn't have electronic touch-plate or more modern equipment for gauging whose lane was the fastest). Blake also worked on set crew for a number of theatrical productions for which I either performed or crewed. Needless to say, we, as sort-of-family, didn't even think about the possibility of dating one another (too much "ew" factor, and it wouldn't surprise me to hear that I was in no wise Blake's type, too).

Although I didn't really keep close track of Blake after we graduated from MHS, my folks continued to be friends with Franklin and his wife, Audrey. In fact, one of the few photographs of my parents together (they each have cameras, so they get pix of each other, but seldom sit together for a Kodak moment) also contains the smiling faces of Franklin and Audrey, from the last time they came to town to visit.

Franklin had a good life, he was a great professor, a fine friend, and his family (all of us, even the ones without blood ties) will miss him.

Update: Here's the official obit:


Franklin Johnson, 89, of Spooner [WI], died on Saturday, April 28, 2007, from
a severe stroke.

He was born on October 8, 1917, in Mervin, Saskatchewan. He attended the
University of Alberta earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics in
1938. In 1940 he volunteered for military service and served with the
1st Canadian Army during World War II.

While serving overseas, he met the love of his life, Audrey Chiverton,
and they were married in 1943. After the war, they returned to Canada
where Franklin attended the University of Toronto, earning a doctorate
in physics in 1949.

In 1950 they emigrated to the United States where Franklin worked for
several years as a research physicist. He was employed by U. S. Rubber
in Detroit and by Honeywell and 3M Company in the Twin Cities.

In 1964, Franklin returned to his first love, teaching, and began a
second career as a college professor. He taught physics at Gustavus
Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., for two years before moving to
Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., where he was chairman of the physics
department for 12 years.

Over the course of his teaching career, Franklin served as mentor to
countless young men and women who were pursuing careers in physics. His
office door was always open to students who needed help or who came
seeking the benefits of his experience and knowledge.

He ended his professional career as an assistant dean at Washington
University in St. Louis, Mo.

Franklin was preceded in death by his parents, William and Alma, and by
his sister, Shirley.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Audrey, and four sons, William
(Susanne) of Evansville, Ind., Paul (Anne) of Carson City, Nevada, David
of St. Paul, and Blake (Susan) of Lee's Summit, Mo.; and 10

Franklin had a rich, full life and enjoyed reading, golfing and visits
from his grandchildren, Ian, Hillary, Trevor, Audrey, Kelly, Scott,
Erin, Claire, Nicholas, and Travis. Until the last week of his life, he
lived in his own home on Dunn Lake with Audrey.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Spooner Memorial

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 2, at
United Methodist Church in Spooner.

Online condolences may be offered at www.dahlfh.com.

Direct link to Dr. Johnson's page from dahlfh.com is here.

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