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Dr. Arthur A. “Art” Johnson, 1925-2020

Art_Johnson_2020.jpgCONWAY, Ark. (October 7, 2020) –The Hendrix College community is saddened by the Oct. 4 death of Dr. Arthur A. Johnson, emeritus professor of biology, who served on the faculty from 1955 until his retirement in 1990. He held the Harold and Lucy Cabe Distinguished Professorship from 1980 to 1990.

Colleagues remember Johnson as a passionate teacher, a superior mentor, and an influential departmental leader who helped elevate the national reputation of Hendrix. Recruited as a newly minted Ph.D. by then-President Matt Ellis to join the Hendrix faculty, Johnson in turn “became an avid proponent of national searches for faculty, and for making the Biology Department a central part of Hendrix’s national reputation as a liberal arts college,” said Dr. Bruce Haggard, professor emeritus of biology. “He was always a spokesperson for improving the sciences as a central part of the liberal arts.”

Haggard recalled Johnson’s gift for passing along his enthusiasm for research to students, many of whom joined him in studying grackles, particularly the birds’ role in spreading parasites along their migration paths. Johnson and his wife, Martha, are still remembered for participating in the annual Audubon bird count and encouraging others to become bird watchers. That kind of encouragement extended to a superior ability to form long-lasting relationships with students.

“Art was atypical in his superior ability to form personal relationships with students that brought out the best in them,” Haggard said. “He was a superior mentor and a friend to most all his students, and even many others that he met in the Campus Center but did not have in class. His door was always open, and his office usually had several students in it. He left a lasting impression on almost all he met, and he continued to communicate with many alumni well into his retirement years.”

Johnson spent many years of his retirement as a regular fixture around Hendrix, continuing his work. “In the spirit of a true scientist, Art maintained an active research program in nematode biology not only during his tenure as a teaching faculty, but for close to two decades post-retirement,” said Dr. Joe Lombardi, professor emeritus of biology. “He was both a model and mentor to me not only as a teacher and academic advisor, but as a strong advocate for my own research efforts.”

Lombardi also spoke of Johnson’s willingness to form personal connections, which enriched the lives of many colleagues and students. “I feel personally that Art Johnson’s impact on students and colleagues, and their admiration, stems from Art’s capacity to genuinely care about people,” he said.

“I came to Hendrix as a single parent of a 10-year old son. During that first year, Art and Martha had us to their home for dinner on several occasions and invited us on many family excursions to visit the Arkansas natural areas, to watch birds, and collect fossils. After dinner, Martha played the piano and all of us would sing. Art and Martha loved music.”

Dr. Matthew D. Moran joined the Department of Biology at Hendrix seven years after Johnson’s retirement, yet he counts Johnson as a significant influence on his teaching and research.

“Art was a legend at Hendrix,” Moran said. “When I first arrived, shortly after he had retired from teaching, I was lucky enough to share a lab space and we would talk each day he was at work. In my first years at Hendrix, we talked a lot about being a professor and a scientist at a place like Hendrix. He did more to influence me than almost anyone else in this community. He was such a kind and thoughtful man with a great scientific mind. His life’s work lives on in the thousands of students, and quite a few professors, that he mentored along the way.”

Due to the pandemic, there will be no public memorial service at this time. A small private graveside service for family will be held, with a public service to be scheduled for a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the AAS Halberg Ecology Camp, P.O. Box 242088, Little Rock, AR 72223, or to the Dr. Arthur A. and Martha Johnson Scholarship at Hendrix College, Office of Development, 1600 Washington Ave., Conway, AR 72032.