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William Reid Johnson

william johnson

August 5, 2022

William (Bill) Reid Johnson, 93, of Arlington, Va., passed away on August 5th after a short illness.

Bill, born on May 20, 1929, grew up in Durham, New Hampshire. He graduated from Phillips Academy-Andover in 1947, earned his undergraduate degree from Oberlin College in 1951, and a masters degree from the University of Washington in 1955.  After graduating, Bill enlisted in the US Army and served at a language school in Monterey California as well as the Philippines. In 1958, Bill returned to Seattle to complete his PhD in Chinese History at the University of Washington.  After teaching at Penn State and the University of Washington, Bill landed a teaching position at the George Washington University in the Nation’s capital in 1966 where he stayed until his retirement in 1996.

At George Washington University,  Bill served as Chair of the History Department, Director of the Institute for Sino-Soviet Studies, Associate Director of the Gaston Sigur Center for East Asian Studies, and Director of the East Asian Studies Program.  At the time of retirement, the University awarded him Professor Emeritus status. Bill loved learning and spent his career reading, researching, traveling and educating the next generation.

At the age of 26, Bill married Norma (Owen) Johnson of Kansas, and went on to have 3 children and 1 grandchild.  He enjoyed dancing,  sailing, traveling, painting, and gardening.

He is survived by his wife Norma and his children, Janice Johnson, Linda (Robin) Pettit and  their son Tony, and Douglas (Ann) Johnson. Bill is survived by his sister Mary Virginia Johnson of Colorado and his nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by his parents, and sister Miriam.

Bill suffered from macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness,  and memorial donations may be made in his honor to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins ( ).  A celebration of life will occur at a future date.

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Memories Timeline


  1. Bill was a fine father-in-law who had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and loved his yard and flowers. I was very glad to have known him for many years. I assume he is resting in peace and enjoying conversations with heavenly beings.

  2. Dad, I am missing you. My heart is comforted by a lavender candle that I’m burning and an exquisite bouquet of deep pink-red roses that I have to honor you. I’m grateful for your love of flowers and trees and the joy we had as a family planting in your many beautiful flower beds and the blessing of seeing the array of colorful blossoms.

  3. Dear Dad, When I looked at the red candle this evening, I thought of the poem by William Blake you exhorted for me to recite with way more passion or understanding that I had in high school: “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright in the Forests of the Night; What Immortal Hand or Eye, Could Frame Thy Fearful Symmetry.” Many moons later, it lives within me as your Heart Lives within me too. Even so, I miss your physical Presence. I hope you’ve reunited with Granddad and Grandma and Aunt Miriam.

  4. There’s a man running for Congress in California known as Collins looking to provide a 25 boost in shell out for teachers and deal with our learning organization! Our educational environments are overloaded, our professors are overstressed, and our kids are declining way behind. Mr. Collins Education venture says it’s supposed to finance to improve our educational institutions, shrink class sizes, raise funds for special education programs and Not one of these other ridiculous legislators have policies to assist our youngsters, we have to give this man a chance! Joe’s web page is vote for Collins

  5. Bill was a superb teacher, who inspired my approach to teaching Chinese and Japanese history throughout my own career. Thank you, Bill.

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