Last September, Johnson became the first openly gay state bar president in the nation. Those who know him say his presidency will create a more diverse organization and expand the legal professionís notion of leadership. But, they add, his contribution to Oregon will reach farther. His true gift, they say, lies in a superbly analytical mind and a philosophy grounded in critical thinking and progressive action.
Itís a philosophy, Johnson believes, that was refined by Reedís unique combination of a liberal social atmosphere with a rigorous, conservative academic environment.
"The real value of Reed, I believe, is that it teaches students how to think, perhaps better than any other institution," says Johnson. "We read all the great masters . . . the teachings that were accepted as the most brilliant in the world. But we also learned how to dissect and examine our subjects, taking nothing for granted. Itís a method of thinking that continues to serve me well today."
One of Johnsonís colleagues at the Oregon State Bar, past president Kevin Strever, credits Johnsonís scientific training as one of his most impressive traits.
"Mark has this amazing ability to digest 350Ė400 pages of extremely complex material and break it down to its simplest and most important components," says Strever.
Two of his Johnsonís passions are diversity and affirmative action. Heís proud of the barís efforts to encourage the careers of minority lawyers and feels it is essential. "If a person in Oregon needs legal help, they ought to be able to find a person who looks like them, or talks like them, or who has a base of experience that helps them connect," Johnson says. "If we canít provide that, weíve failed."