Phyllis Johnson, advocate for children, dies at 86 | May 13, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - May 13, 2011

Phyllis Johnson, advocate for children, dies at 86

Phyllis Hackman Johnson, a long-time Menlo Park resident, a passionate advocate for children and an active volunteer, died April 16 at the Sequoias in Portola Valley after a long illness. She was 86.

She was born on July 17, 1924, in San Jose, the oldest daughter of Albert and Eva Hackman. As a student at San Jose High School, she was active in the First United Methodist Church. It was there that she met her future husband, John R. Johnson, son of the newly arrived minister.

"It was love at first sight, at least for me," he recalled.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy sent Johnson to Asbury Park, N.J., for training, so 20-year-old Hackman took a train across the country alone to marry her sweetheart. The Johnsons were married for 66 years.

After the war, she earned her B.A. in elementary education from San Jose State University. Following her husband's graduation from Stanford University, the couple settled in Menlo Park, and she taught at Addison School in Palo Alto. Her husband served as city manager of Menlo Park and then as executive administrator of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

While raising two children, she was an energetic volunteer committed to social justice. She served on the Board of the Children's Health Council, the League of Women Voters and other organizations.

"Mom never could say no when someone needed something done," her son Steve recalled. "She always had some project laid out on the dining room table, but every Friday she'd clear it off in time for whatever party she was having that weekend."

In 1969, when busing of students from East Palo Alto to Menlo-Atherton High School provoked racial tensions, she led efforts to reach out to parents in both communities to promote harmony.

A gifted photographer who loved hiking and traveling, she never tired of learning. At age 50, she went back to San Jose State to earn a master's degree in instructional technology.

She was a soft-spoken, gracious hostess who put people at ease. "Mom always looked put together and elegant, even in her last years," her daughter Kris recalled.

In 1998, the Johnsons moved to The Sequoias, where she led an art therapy program for the memory impaired.

Survivors include her husband, son Steven Johnson (Carol) of Petaluma, daughter Kristina Johnson of Truckee, and two granddaughters, Anna and Sarah Johnson of San Rafael.


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