The Grambling State University community is mourning after the announcement that Dr. Joseph Benjamin Johnson died on Tuesday.
Johnson, 83, was the university’s third president. He died Tuesday on after a lengthy illness, according to a news release.
At Johnson’s request, the Johnson family said there will not be a funeral service.
“We have lost an iconic leader who elevated the standing of Grambling State University across the globe,” said GSU President Rick Gallot, in a news release. “I remember Dr. Johnson’s fierce resolve to protect and enhance our school. He was my president when I was a student, and he served as a mentor and advisor very early in my tenure as president.”
Johnson was born on Sept. 16, 1934, in New Orleans, according to an article on The History Makers, to Lillie M. Johnson and the late Sidney T. Johnson.
He attended GSU (when it was known as Grambling College) and was a member of the school’s basketball team. He graduated with his undergraduate degree in 1957 and later earned a master’s degree in 1967 and a Ph.D. from University of Colorado at Boulder.
He also did post-doctoral work at Harvard University.
He began his career in education in 1962 as a high school teacher in Shreveport.
In 1977, after serving as the assistant to the president of the University of Colorado, he returned to his alma mater, then known as Grambling State University. He succeeded President Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones.
At GSU, he worked to save the school from financial failure. During his tenure, he grew student enrollment from 2,600 to a record-setting 7,000-student enrollment, according to a news release from GSU.
The release also reads that in 1981, along with Lamore Carter, vice president and provost and attorney Thomas N. Todd, they were able to get greater support from the government. GSU received new campus construction, employee raises and new academic programs — including the creation of the University’s nursing program in 1983 and the first doctoral developmental education program in 1984.
In 1987, he was able to implement an online registration process, years ahead of its time. It was also during his tenure that Coach Eddie Robinson rose in the national spotlight.
“He came in with a Grambling heart and a sturdy, father hand. It was just what Grambling needed,” said Judge Yvette Mansfield Alexander, who’s based in Baton Rouge. “He only wanted the best for his, and my, dear ole Grambling.”
He left GSU in 1991 to become the president of Talladega College and remained there until his retirement in 1998.
“I am sad to learn that Dr. Johnson has passed,” said E.L. Henry, in a news release. Henry is an attorney who served as speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives when Johnson was GSU president.
“I well remember when he became president of Grambling State University and the impact he had, not only on the university but the entire area. He was a dedicated public servant and an example for all of us to follow,” Henry said.
Johnson was a member of a number of civic, professional and social organizations, including Phi Delta Kappa and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
He was married to the late Lula Young Johnson. They had four children: Yolanda Johnson Dixon, an attorney and Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Senate, and triplets – Julie, a medical doctor; Juliet, a Fisk University administrator, and Joseph III, an actuary and financial analyst.
GSU said it plans to honor Johnson soon, according to a news release.