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William B. Johnson

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July 25, 2013
William B. Johnson ’40 H’75, a College benefactor whose service on the Board of Visitors and Governors spanned more than 40 years, suffered a massive stroke and died April 24, 2013.

His Board leadership was part of a family commitment to Washington College that began more than a century ago with his second cousin J. Purnell Johnson, who graduated in 1910, and his father Benjamin Alvin Johnson, who earned his degree in 1911.

Graduating maxima cum laude in 1940, Mr. Johnson won six of the senior class prizes given in his day, including awards for character, government and debating and the Catlin Award to the outstanding student in the graduating class. He was President of the Student Government Association, President of Kappa Alpha fraternity, a member of Sigma Omicron Delta honor society (and subsequently Phi Beta Kappa as one of six Foundation Members) and a member of the varsity tennis and debate teams.

He graduated in 1943 from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review and met and married his wife, Mary Barb, in 1942. He served in the U.S. Army Provost Marshall General Office during World War II, clerked with the U.S. Tax Court in Washington, DC, was associate general counsel for the Pennsylvania Railroad, president of Railway Express Agency for seven years and chief executive officer of the multi-billion dollar conglomerate Illinois Central Industries (later called Whitman Corporation and today a part of PepsiCo Inc.) for 21 years.

Business Week magazine featured him on its cover in 1966 as “Man of the Year,” and Crain’s Chicago Business honored him as “Executive of the Year” in 1984. He received an honorary degree in law from Washington College in 1975 and the Alumni Service Award in 1998.

Mr. Johnson and his family were instrumental in funding the construction of the Johnson Fitness Center (named in honor of Bill’s father), as well as the renovation of the facility completed earlier this year. The Johnson legacy also includes the William B. Johnson Business Internship Awards and the Rufus C. Johnson ’42 Scholarship, an endowed fund—now worth more than $860,000—honoring the memory of Rufus Johnson, a veterinarian and entrepreneur.


Last modified on Jul. 29th, 2013 at 10:39am by Kristen Hammond.