Yale University

In Memoriam

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson
1964 graduation

Below are an obituary followed by a letter from classmate Al Adams to Judy Johnson, Tom's widow.


The paramount tribute for Dr. Thomas R. Johnson is his resounding, passion for his fellow man. Humanitarian deeds will live outside the diminished boundaries of his life. Thomas Randall Johnson died of natural causes at his home Feb. 19, 2007. He was born May 20, 1942, to Dr. Raymond and Nellie Johnson, both of whom preceded him in death.

As a life-long learner, Dr. Johnson's education ensued from birth to death. His formal education began when he graduated, co-valedictorian, from Harlowton High School in 1960. He attended Yale Undergraduate from 1960-1964 and went on to achieve his medical degree from the Yale University School of Medicine in 1968. He completed his internship at the University of Oregon Hospitals and Clinics in 1969. Dr. Johnson completed residencies in Orthopedics at both the Medical College of Virginia and Yale's New Haven Hospital between 1972 and 1975. He completed Fellowship training in Hand Surgery in 1977. In addition, Dr. Johnson served his country as Lt. Commander in the Navy at NYC, 1970-1972.

While pursuing a medical career, Tom married Judy Grande of Lennep, June 18, 1965. Following his education, Tom and Judy and their three children, Brett, Burke and Paula made their home in Billings.

Professionally, Dr. Johnson served Orthopedic Surgeons from 1977 to December 2006. During his tenure, he was president of the group and served on the Saint Vincent Board and the Montana Regional Council. Furthermore, he practiced with the VA first part-time and then full-time from fall 2005 until present.

Dr. Johnson's longtime association with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons [AAOS] began when he became a fellow in 1981. He served on the AAOS Publications Committee and as a member of the Patient Education Committee. Dr. Johnson was a member of the Board of Councilors, a 90-member body elected by state orthopaedic societies to advise the AAOS Board of Directors. He acted as the AAOS monograph series liaison for a book series to provide in-depth reviews of orthopaedic research. Dr. Johnson contended that musculoskeletal education for primary care physicians and patients was vital. Consequently, he served on the Editorial Boards for the first and second editions of the Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, a textbook intended to provide primary care physicians with information about common orthopaedic conditions. When asked, "Why would you be so willing to do all this work for AAOS directed to primary care physicians for free?" without hesitation he responded, "Because they need it."

Dr. Johnson was co-Editor-in-Chief of Essentials of Musculoskeletal Imaging, a multi-language reference text designed as an easy-to-use guide for ordering and interpreting imaging studies for common orthopaedic conditions.

Dr. Johnson recently accepted the charge as Editor-in-Chief of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' Your Orthopaedic Connection, a visionary website that provides orthopaedic information and tools for patients and health care professionals.
Dr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Judy, and their three adult children: Brett, Billings; Burke [Leslie], Denver, CO; Paula, Pocatello, ID. In addition, Tom is survived by his brother, Greg [Washington DC].

Also, Dr. Johnson is survived by his seemingly endless contributions to others and his unflinching passion to do that which is right. This giant of a man had every opportunity to tout his accomplishments and seek financial gain. Instead he turned his attention to mentoring, to providing experiences for countless individuals and groups, and to developing lasting relationships. Although Tom Johnson was somewhat of a shy, reserved man, his ability to put others at ease caused him to be sought by many. He was interested in more than medicine; he was interested in life and living. His eyes sparkled at a new idea or a new book; his spirit soared when the Denver Broncos prevailed; his pride exploded when his children excelled; he wept when his partners died or a friend was wronged.

Dr. Thomas R. Johnson, you will continue to live in the thousands of lives you've touched around the world!

Services for the public are Friday, Feb. 23, at 3:30 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church with a reception following. Memorials are being accepted for the Thomas R. Johnson Medical Scholarship Fund, Bill Tierney, RBC Dain Rauscher, PO Box 2158, Billings, MT 59103.


Letter from Al Adams '64 to Judy Johnson

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dear Judy:

It's been a long time since you lost Tom. I have meant to write many times but now is the time, with the Ink Spots playing in the background and clouds heavy over Honolulu.

The first time I ever heard of the Ink Spots was when Tom introduced them to me in the form of a record. Oh so many years ago … 48 maybe. Pretty smooth. A little schmaltzy … memories of Lawrence Welk. But I stuck with them, thanks to Tom and the many things I learned from him.

"Talented end and punter" was my introduction to him, courtesy of my Father who always wanted me to be involved with Yale football. Caving in a weak moment, I served briefly as sub-deputy-assistant Manager, until I wore a red pullover on the field during a Cornell game and was booed out of the stadium. Tom had a good laugh at that one.

Laughs, good nature, low-balling, calm but not cold, a wholly decent guy. Perhaps the first I had met in my oh-so-sophisticated Eastern Seaboard young years. I wasn't sure just what to make of Tom at first. In time, he became my best friend, best man, co-driver on many road trips, work mate at the Harper Two Dot Ranch (the summer I lost the rear wheel on Jewell's big tractor; I still remember those damned peahens and peacocks hopping up and down for their food).

Tom, dear me, the most honest, unaffected AND brainy man I have been honored to make a friend. Also, one of the coolest and most calm under fire I have encountered. He was one to have at your side in a nasty place when the lights go out.

What were Tom's lessons for me? Well, you can be an ACE and still come out of Harlowton. Or anywhere else beyond New York City. You don't need Brooks Brothers clothes or witty patter or cynicism to make your way in this world. A very dry Manhattan does help (another thing Tom introduced me to). And one of life's great lessons: settle down and work it out. Get a grip and apply yourself. That and his consciousness of others in need … in pain. As a physician he answered that call. And as Doc Loesse's partner, pioneered techniques which brought to many a fuller life. Humility is it, like so many of the quiet songs of the Ink Spots.

So many memories of this man ― football games, accounts of his vacations with you at home, that white leather car coat he wore everywhere (I cringed at the sight☺), the flawless integrity and straight talk.

l owe much to Tom. Hard sometimes to drag it out of me. But as I write, there are tears in my eyes ― for Tom, for you, for your children, for all who have lived and loved and lost and who keep faith with what is important. Friends, mates, people in need.

I am sorry not to have done a better job at staying in touch with Tom when I had the chance. And with you, now.


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