Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’39Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’39 dies

Ellen Knowlton Johnson ’39, a lifelong member of the Reed community, died in her sleep, on October 17 at age 86 in Beaverton, Oregon. As both an alumna and a former staff member, Johnson was known for her warmth, understanding, and dedication to Reed College.

Johnson was born to a Reed faculty family on September 30, 1916. As the daughter of Ansel A. “Tony” Knowlton, distinguished professor of physics, she lived on campus throughout her childhood. Raised amid a spirit of academic passion, Johnson grew up with professors and fellow faculty children, all sharing a love of learning. Eventually attending Reed herself, Johnson spent five years in undergraduate studies before graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in French language and literature.

When Johnson graduated from Reed in 1939, her commitment to the college had only just begun. Initially, she worked for the Portland Library Association (Multnomah County Library) as an assistant librarian at Washington High School. In 1940 she married her college sweetheart, Kenneth Johnson ’40. Soon after, she returned to Reed and started working part time for her father in 1942 as a secretary and “book checker” in the physics department. Following that period Johnson began her 36-year association with Reed’s registrar’s office, first as assistant to the registrar, then as recorder, and finally as registrar, a position she maintained for 19 years.

As registrar, Johnson combined dedicated standards with friendly generosity and grace. She was known as a thoughtful leader and mentor for faculty and staff members alike, always seen with a smile on her face. In particular, she worked to fit a growing student body into a limited number of classrooms, kept student records, made out schedules, and assigned rooms to faculty members, all with only pen, ink, and a typewriter. In the faculty resolution passed on her retirement, Marvin Levich, professor of philosophy, said, “Ellen as registrar was a remarkable human being, embodying the standards and spirit of Reed. She knew and was committed to standards, but she also had the rare sensitivity of knowing when an exception was warranted and the rare skill of knowing how to get it approved.”

Johnson also served as assistant secretary for the board of trustees during her time as registrar. After retiring, she continued her dedication to the college as a member of the alumni board and later as an alumni trustee from 1997 to 2001. As a fitting tribute to her achievements and wisdom, Johnson and her husband established the Ellen Knowlton Scholarship Fund. During a recent visit to campus, she shared the fact that she had known and met every president of Reed from Foster to Koblik.

Throughout her lifetime Johnson participated in many activities, including volunteering at the Beaverton City Library, doing book reviews for her reading group, volunteering for college reunions, working as a member of the Foster-Scholz steering committee, and, of particular interest to her, growing orchids and gardening. Kenneth Johnson died in 1989. She is survived by three nephews. End of Article


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Reed Magazine February 2003
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