Students, Colleagues Remember Michael Johnson


ST. LOUIS – Somewhere, Dr. Michael Johnson is looking down; his eyes and smile twinkling as brightly as the stars he discussed with great passion, humor and reverence in his classroom. Dr. Johnson, 57, a lecturer of physics at Maryville University, died suddenly on Friday, April 13, 2007. He had served on the Maryville faculty since 2002.

“Dr. Johnson supported a theory that the stars that we see at night are actually the image of the stars from a long time ago. If you think about it, perhaps this theory is true about people. That somewhere far away, we are still alive,” said senior Jason Charney of Florissant, a computer science major, who was a student in Dr. Johnson’s physics class this semester. “Stars may fade away but they still shine in the sky that is in our memory and in our hearts.”

Another of Dr. Johnson’s students, junior Patrick Hesser of Imperial, a marketing major, said he appreciated the way Dr. Johnson used humor and modesty to put his students at ease. “He always tried to present himself on the same level as the students,” Hesser said. “Although smarter than we, he always contended in class that ‘No one is as stupid as I look.’ His presence in our lives will be greatly missed.” Junior Michael Alaly of St. Louis, who took Dr. Johnson’s honors cosmology course, “Understanding the Universe,” always will remember his instructor’s sheer intelligence.

“Professor Johnson was one of the more profound scientific minds that I’ve encountered,” said Alaly, who is majoring in English, history and liberal studies with a concentration in philosophy. “A student could not complete his cosmology course without being amazed by the harmony and beauty in the universe. … Professor Johnson will be remembered for the refinement and grace that he brought to many a Maryville student.”

Dan Sparling, Ph.D., dean of Maryville’s College of Arts and Sciences, said Dr. Johnson’s death was a “tragic loss” and that he will be missed by all. “The faculty deeply admired and respected him as a colleague and friend,” Sparling said. “His students benefited from his knowledge and commitment to their learning. We all will miss his warm personality and wry humor.”

A close friend, Tom Bratkowski, Ph.D., assistant dean of the College, who served as a pallbearer at Dr. Johnson’s funeral, said he admired his late colleague’s natural curiosity and inquisitive nature. “Mike tagged Monarch butterflies with my class last fall and he was fascinated with the long and precise navigation of such a tiny creature,” Bratkowski said. “Mike was a pure scientist whose thinking was not restricted to physics and astronomy. He was always asking questions about the conventional thinking and didn’t take the easy assumptions for granted.”

Marshall King, Ph.D., professor of political science, said he and Dr. Johnson spent many hours discussing the cosmos. “Mike was kind enough to put up with my amateurish observations on these subjects,” King said. “He was a dedicated and smart teacher, whose presence on campus will be sorely missed.”

Another side of Dr. Johnson was seen on a daily basis by Germaine Murray, Ph.D., associate professor of English, whose office was across the hall from his. “He was especially proud of his three girls and was a very involved father,” Murray said. “He often gave me advice about my own daughter, Miriam. He always was the first to say good morning to me and always, every morning, asked how I was feeling. He had a dry wit and he was kind to his colleagues and to his students.”

Dr. Johnson held his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of San Francisco; his master’s degree in physics from the University of Toledo; and his doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Pennsylvania. He is survived by his wife, Dee Johnson, and their three daughters, Lucy, Emily and Hannah. Memorial contributions may be made to Children’s Wish Foundation, Inc., 8615 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, Ga. 30350-7526.

A tree will be planted in Dr. Johnson’s memory during a ceremony to be held at 12:30 p.m., Thursday, April 26, in the area between Mouton and Duchesne halls.