John R. Johnson
Oct. 20, 1923-Sept. 17, 2012
Portola Valley, California
John R. Johnson, who ran the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for more than two decades and served as city manager of Menlo Park during the boom years of the early 1960s, died Sept. 17 at The Sequoias in Portola Valley. He was 88.
A nationally respected health-care administrator, Mr. Johnson was an active community volunteer and dedicated Stanford alumnus. He was devoted to his family, especially to his wife, Phyllis, to whom he was married for 66 years until her death last year. He loved to travel, play tennis and dominoes, and spend time with his granddaughters.
Mr. Johnson was born in Greeley, Colo., on Oct. 20, 1923, the son of the Rev. Rector and Elsie Bales Johnson. As the son of a Methodist minister, he moved frequently as a child, from Colorado to Arizona and eventually to San Jose, Calif., when he was in high school. He met his bride, Phyllis Hackman, at the First United Methodist Church youth group.
After graduating from San Jose High School in 1941, Mr. Johnson entered Stanford University, where he majored in political science. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, he joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to officer training school. In 1944 he was commissioned an ensign, got married in Asbury Park, N.J., and headed for Guam, where he served on a minesweeper, the USS Oracle.
After the war, Mr. Johnson returned to Stanford and received his B.A. in political science in 1946. In 1947 he received a fellowship in Public Affairs from the Coro Foundation in San Francisco.
Mr. Johnson's distinguished 40-year career was dedicated to serving Peninsula residents during a time of tremendous growth and change. From 1952 to 1964, he worked for the City of Menlo Park, as Assistant City Manager and then as City Manager. Menlo Park was in the midst of the post-war boom, and under Mr. Johnson's direction the city expanded its boundaries and built a new library and police station.
In 1964, Mr. Johnson went to work for the Palo Alto Medical Clinic as Executive Administrator. Over the next 23 years, as doctors transitioned from house calls to managed care, he presided over the clinic's growth into the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a premier regional provider of medical services.
In 1987 he became Vice President of Administration for PAMF. He retired in 1991 but continued to serve on the board of directors for several years. He also served as president of the Medical Group Management Association and the American Association of Ambulatory Health Care, and was a fellow of the American College of Medical Practice Executives.
Mr. Johnson was a fervent Stanford booster and a generous community volunteer. He served as president of the Stanford Alumni Association, as a member of the "chain gang" at Stanford football games and as a docent in the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame. He served for 32 years on the board of directors of Channing House and received the Lifetimes of Achievement award from Avenidas.
John and Phyllis Johnson had a son and a daughter, Steve and Kris. "Dad was my hero and always will be," said Kris. "He was a perfect father, a perfect gentleman and he was always there for me."
"Although we'll miss Dad," Steve said, "he's back where he belongs, which is with Mom."
His granddaughters, Anna Johnson and Sarah Johnson Macek, have fond memories of summers at Lake Tahoe, evenings around the fire pit in their grandparents' Menlo Park backyard, and thousands of domino games.
"He was always so delighted to see our faces," recalled Anna. "And he genuinely cared about the happiness of those around him."
"He was the most amazing man I, or anybody had the chance to meet," Sarah said, "and I was lucky to share so much of his life and love."
Mr. Johnson is survived by Steven Johnson and his wife Carol of Petaluma, Kristina Johnson of Truckee, Anna Johnson and Mark Heaphy and Sarah Johnson Macek and Brandon Macek, all of San Rafael.