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Laurin Johnson MAT ’66

Laurin was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, where his Norwegian grandparents had homesteaded. He enjoyed childhood in a day when children and dogs ran free, and cherished the time spent on his Uncle Peter’s farm, sitting with his cousins in the hopper of the combine as the wheat rained down, or resting his forehead on the warm flank of the cow he milked.

After World War II, Laurin’s family moved to Denver, Colorado, where he delivered the Rocky Mountain News at dawn and the Denver Post in the afternoon, lobbing the papers onto porches from his bicycle. Before graduating from East High School, he watched newsreels of A-bomb tests on the Bikini Atoll, and signed affidavits that he had never been associated with anyone on a list of a hundred or more organizations, all of them Communist fronts. The House Un-American Activities Committee dominated the news. The Korean War loomed in the future. In the gloom of the ’50’s, Laurin smoked Camel cigarettes and read Hot Rod magazine, Kierkegaard, Camus, and Kafka.

He enrolled in the engineering school at the University of Colorado, and then spent six months at the Army Language School in Monterey, California, and two years as a translator in Frankfurt, Germany. After his discharge, he remained in Europe, attending the University of Montpellier in the south of France. Returning to the states, he earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of Chicago, and, to support himself, worked for the Encyclopedia Britannica, researching and answering questions to which readers could not find answers. He then headed to San Francisco and found work as a bank teller. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Laurin hopped a freighter and headed back to Europe, where he married a girlfriend from his days at Montpellier. The couple moved to Portland, where Laurin earned an MA in teaching at Reed and then taught English at Portland Community College from 1967 to 1990. In 1989, he married Deborah Rand. During his retirement, Laurin enjoyed travel, music, carpentry, reading, and philosophizing with friends over a cold beer. He published a book on the astronomical roots of Homer’s Odyssey. When his beloved 1950 pickup camper finally rusted out, he converted a mini–school bus into a cozy retreat for Deborah and their golden retrievers. Whenever he felt the need to pray, he sat at his upright piano and played the andante of Bach’s Italian Concerto. Laurin is survived by his three children, Mira Lazaro, Lisa Diamond, and Isaac Johnson; their mother, Yvette Roche Johnson; his sister, Lois Jouette; his wife, Deborah Rand; and his stepchildren, Julie Crary and Matthew Goodwin.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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