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Left to right: Frank Medeiros, Albert Johnson and Joyce Gattas (Credit: SDSU University Archives Photograph Collection) Left to right: Frank Medeiros, Albert Johnson and Joyce Gattas (Credit: SDSU University Archives Photograph Collection)

In Memoriam: Albert W. Johnson

Biology professor and academic vice president Albert W. Johnson helped usher in SDSU’s reputation as a respected research institution.
By SDSU News Team

Albert W. Johnson, an influential biologist at San Diego State University for 27 years, passed away on Sept. 23, 2017, at age 91. Beginning in 1969, Johnson served as dean of the College of Sciences for San Diego State College—as SDSU was known as the time. Later, he served as vice president of Academic Affairs. During his tenure, he promoted the teacher-scholar model that distinguishes SDSU today and encouraged teaching-load policies that allowed faculty to engage in research endeavors. As a result of these efforts, SDSU grew into a major, internationally respected research university.
"I was privileged to have Al Johnson as academic vice president," said former university president Thomas B. Day. "The excellence that is SDSU today owes much to his contributions."
Johnson grew up in Belvidere, Illinois, where he acquired a love for the outdoors and nature. That passion inspired him to study biology at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University), followed by a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder. With his wife, Beverly, and three sons, he then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he studied arctic botany and plant biology. 
While there, he joined colleagues and community members to oppose a U.S. government proposal, known as Project Chariot, to expand an artificial harbor on the northwest Alaskan coast using a nuclear bomb. Johnson and others argued that detonating the bomb would threaten the livelihoods of native Alaskan people, as well as the region’s unique and fragile habitat. The coalition succeeded in its mission and the plan was abandoned.
Johnson joined SDSU as a biology professor in 1964. In the 1970s, he met his second wife, Susan, with whom he had two additional sons. Johnson retired from university work in 1991, after which he and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon. His commitment to the university’s faculty’s teaching and research excellence lives on through the annual Albert W. Johnson University Research Lectureship, which recognizes outstanding academic achievement in a faculty member with a cash prize and a lively public lecture open to the entire SDSU community.
Johnson is survived by Susan and five sons: Mark, Curtis, Chris, David and Peter.
“Often described by his colleagues as a ‘true gentleman,’ Al proved to be a wonderful liaison between administration and our faculty, as well as a wonderful representative to the larger scientific community in San Diego,” said Stephen Welter, SDSU’s vice president for research and dean of graduate affairs. “The Albert W. Johnson award was created not only to honor his achievements, but equally important, to encourage and support our faculty in their own scholarship and creative activities.”