Campus mourns Louis Johnson, 1st business dean

The bricks and mortar of Johnson Hall stand solid in honor of Louis Johnson Jr.'s long-term commitment to his work, his relationships and his community.

Johnson, regarded as "Mr. Business Administration" by several generations of Tennessee Tech University students, served from 1942 until 1975 as dean of TTU's College of Business Administration.

He died Thursday, July 10, at age 95. Visitation will be held at Hooper-Huddleston & Horner Funeral Home from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday and will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Cookeville First United Methodist Church. The memorial service will begin at 3 p.m. at the church. Honorary pallbearers will be retired and present TTU faculty.

"Dean Johnson was the foundation stone of the college," said TTU President Bob Bell. "Beyond this, he was the most beloved representative the College of Business ever had."

Johnson joined the TTU faculty in 1936, becoming dean in 1942. He stepped down from the deanship in 1975, retiring from the faculty in 1978.

His credentials included a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green College of Commerce (now Western Kentucky University), a master's degree from Northwestern University and a law degree from Samford University. But his value to Tennessee Tech and the community could not be measured only in terms of academic credentials.

Johnson is credited with upgrading TTU's business curricula, laying the foundation for the master's of business administration program, teaching with dedication and expertise, and building relationships among the university and the business, industrial and civic sectors of the community.

Committed to public service as well as academia, he used his expertise and knowledge to shape local government and to support it with his participation. He served as Cookeville's Commissioner of Finance and Taxation from 1947 to 1953. Johnson also chaired the commission that drafted the Cookeville charter establishing the current city manager and council form of government.

Still, Tennessee Tech faculty, staff and alumni remember Johnson for a spirit and attitude rarely found in an individual with so much influence, responsibility and education.

"Dr. Johnson would tell us stories and jokes," says Candy Norris of the college's Division of External Relations. "He talked about dollar dates when he and his wife, Virginia, could each have a hamburger and a coke, go to the Princess Theater to watch a picture show and still have a nickel left over to buy popcorn."

Economics Professor Whewon Cho, a longtime friend of Johnson's, says that kind of story is what made the dean different. He valued chit chat, a good joke, and a personal story.

"He was the best I've ever seen at remembering names of students," says Cho. "At homecomings, he could remember a graduate's name from 30 years ago as well as one from five years ago. That motivation came from the compassion he had for everyone."

President Bell agrees, saying "his daily interactions with people gave me an example of what a good dean does. Actually, it was more than interaction, it's what I'd call 'loving on people,' a genuine concern and fondness for everyone around him."

Johnson Hall was named and dedicated for him in 1971 because of the mark he left on the university in his 35 years there. When he met the current College of Business Administration dean, Bob Niebuhr, he gave him a charge to "take care of my building."

But Johnson's real legacy is only represented by the building. The life of his work was about people. The Dean Louis and Virginia Johnson Fund for Excellence was established to take care of students and faculty who will use the building in years to come. It honors Johnson and wife Virginia, who earned a bachelor's degree in English here and taught business communications on campus for 23 years. The fund will support student scholarships and graduate assistantships, faculty travel to professional meetings, publication expenses, summer research grants for faculty and graduate students, and seed money to begin new programs.

Christine Jones, regional history librarian in special collections, wrote a description of Johnson that reflects his ultimate accomplishments.

"He realized and appreciated the value of sincerity of conviction, honor of conduct, integrity of purpose, and fulfillment of promise. He had the friendship of men, the respect of women, and the tender love of children. And he believed in getting things done."

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