Victor L. Johnson, 89, philanthropist and tech leader

Victor L. Johnson, 89, of Meadowbrook, a native Philadelphian whose success in business was matched only by his devotion to philanthropy and civic life, died Saturday, Sept. 2, at home.

As a young man, he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Haverford College and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers and saw combat during the Korean War.

Upon returning home, Mr. Johnson assumed the leadership of Montague Rod & Reel Co., which in its prime built everything from ocean rods to fly rods that were known for strength and durability.

In 1955, Mr. Johnson wed Joan Markovitz, also of Philadelphia. Together, they had two daughters and pursued what would become a lifelong passion for collecting American decorative arts, particularly Pennsylvania folk art.

In 1958, Mr. Johnson founded Johnson Computing Co., now JCI Data Processing Inc., in an era when few computers were commercially available and businesses had yet to grasp the value of quick-speed data and information.

Mr. Johnson assisted nonprofit organizations from the United Way and the Nicetown Club for Boys and Girls, to the Philadelphia Theater for New Plays and Germantown Friends School. He served in volunteer leadership roles with the American Hospital Association, the Pennsylvania Hospital Trustee Association, the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, and the Delaware Valley Hospital Council.

He cofounded the national Volunteer Trustees of Not-for-Profit Hospitals and chaired the health-care advisory committee of the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz  (R., Pa).

No institution benefited more from Mr. Johnson’s leadership and generosity than Einstein Healthcare Network, which he served from 1973 onward. In 1987, he was elected chair of the board of trustees — his father once held the same role — and he helped Einstein become among the first to embrace advanced technologies in managing business and caring for patients.

As chair, he pushed for the appointment of world-class medical professionals, the establishment of new heart and psychiatry centers, the expansion of services to the elderly, and the opening of state-of-the-art health-care facilities in underserved city neighborhoods.

His most recent contribution was the endowment of the Victor L. and Joan M. Johnson Chair of Technology, a gift that joined his commitment to Einstein with the field in which he was fully engaged. Other philanthropic gifts included the couple’s donation of 240 examples of Pennsylvania German fraktur to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Joan Johnson has been a trustee since 1993.

Mr. Johnson was a fierce competitor who played tennis, backgammon, and bridge, a devoted amateur photographer, and an avid fisherman who took his sons-in-law, including the late Harold W. Pote, to Alaska in pursuit of wild salmon.

His family described him as a lifelong Francophile who believed virtually any dish could be improved by the addition of French butter. He took pleasure in treating friends to the richest cuisine, preferably paired with a good French wine. Among his happiest days were summers spent in Brittany through the Experiment in International Living exchange, and he remained close to his French host family for the rest of his life.

Mr. Johnson liked nothing better than to end the day with a dry martini on the back porch of his home at Hidden Glen in Meadowbrook, where he and Joan raised their family.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters Linda E. Johnson and Sally Johnson Wilson.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St.

Donations may be made to the Einstein Healthcare Network, 5501 Old York Rd., Philadelphia 19141.


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