Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Sept. 24, 1919, he and his older brother, Hugh Johnston, were raised by their journalist parents Homer and Ethel Johntson. They moved to Long Beach in 1922, where he was a "quintessential beach boy," according to his family. He studied at Pomona College before graduating from Cornell University as a Phi Beta Kappa and member of the Telluride Association.
In 1941, he began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Surplus Marketing Administration and later joined the army in August 1942. He attended the Army Officer Candidate School at Camp Davis in Wilmington, North Carolina and became a second lieutenant. During his posting at Camp Davis, he met Harriet Pollins, from Jackson, Michigan, on a blind date and married her in Wilmington on March 31, 1944. That year, he attended the School of Military Government in Virginia that was established during World War II.
He and his wife then moved to Stanford where he received civil affairs training and intensive Japanese instruction in preparation for the post-WWII occupation. In October 1945, he joined General Douglas MacArthur's staff, in Japan, where he was responsible for price controls, rationing and distribution of food to the Japanese people after the war. He then returned to Stanford University as a graduate student at the Food Research Institute in 1948. Four years later, he received his masters of arts and doctorate in agricultural economics and then spent two and a half years as an agricultural economist with NATO. He was assigned to the Food and Agriculture Division of the Marshall Plan's European office in Paris.
In September 1954, he returned to Stanford again but as a faculty member of the Food Research Institute, where he researched and taught in the field of agricultural development for decades. He authored numerous publications and received awards for his research including a Guggenheim Fellowship and was named the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Fellow. He also collaborated on many research endeavors with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. His career afforded him the opportunity to work in many parts of Asia, Europe and Africa and to live in Japan, France, Uganda, Kenya and Austria.
After living on the Stanford campus until 1993, he and his wife moved down to Pacific Grove where they became involved in the community through St. Mary's by-the-Sea Episocpal Church and by volunteering. Later, they moved to the Sequoias-Portola Valley retirement community.
Predeceased by his wife of 67 years and his son, Bruce, he is survived by his daughter, Patricia (Nina) Johnston of Denver; granddaughter, Elizabeth J. (Quinn) Smith of Douglas, Alaska; and grandson, Zachary (Kaitlin) Waegell of Watertown, Massachusetts.
A memorial service will be held on March 7, 11:30 a.m., at St. Mary's by-the-Sea Church, 146 12th St., Pacific Grove. Donations can be made to the Peninsula Open Space Trust (222 High St., Palo Alto, CA 94301), St. Mary's by-the-Sea/Christian Social Concerns, or to Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (95 Alta Vista Ave., Watsonville 95076).
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