James G. Johnson Jr., namesake of the James G. Johnson Conservancy at the Larchmont Reservoir, former president of the Mamaroneck Board of Education, and active member of the College Careers fund of Westchester passed away last month at his home in New Rochelle. He was 95. Johnson was an influential member of the Mamaroneck community, serving as school board president and acting as an environmental activist and advocate for local underprivileged youth, among many other things.
“Jimmy” Johnson was born on October 15, 1915 in Jackson, Mississippi but moved with his family to New York in 1918. He attended public schools in New York City, including P.S. 166 and DeWitt Clinton High School until his freshmen year in high school, finishing his secondary education in Pennsylvania before attending Yale University. Johnson was a member of Phi Beta Kappa before his graduation in 1936 and he subsequently attended Yale Law School where he served on the Editorial Board of the Yale Law Review and was a member of the Order of the Coif, a select society open only to exceptionally talented legal students.
Johnson started his career in 1942 as a member of the legal staff of the Lend Lease Administration. Following that, he worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration where he traveled to China in his capacity as a legal advisor to the China Mission. Johnson then worked at the United Nations before joining the firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in 1946 where he worked until his retirement in 1983.
Johnson was very interested in bettering education as evidenced by his service on the school boards of the Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Virginia, the American Community School in Paris, France, and the Mamaroneck school system. He served in Mamaroneck for three years in the early 1960s, while three of his children attended schools in the district.
In his environmental endeavors, Johnson served as president of Friends of the Reservoir Inc., a conservation group that led the efforts to preserve the Larchmont Reservoir. Today, the stands on the Larchmont Reservoir-James G. Johnson, Jr. Conservancy, on the Mamaroneck-New Rochelle border.
Sheldrake provides a number of ecologically minded programs with the aim of inspiring “environmental awareness and action in our community and to preserve, protect and enhance local environmental resources.”
In addition to helping save the land that the center rests on, Johnson helped memorialize the osprey as the official symbol of the Larchmont Reservoir. As the story goes, Johnson led a tour of the property in order to convince local officials that the land was worthy of the efforts being made to preserve it. During that tour, an osprey—a raptor that feeds almost exclusively on fish and an uncommon sight in the area—swooped down and scooped up a fish right in front of the group. A short time later—while Johnson was walking alone near the reservoir after the officials decided to save it as conservation area—he witnessed a similar incident. Johnson interpreted his unexpected sightings as a good omen for the project, leading to its eventual adoption as the Reservoir’s icon.
Johnson also joined the College Career Funds of Westchester in 1967. The organization helped give educational opportunities to underprivileged, minority Westchester youths, particularly African-American students in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
In 1940, Jimmy, who was described by many who knew him as humble, caring, and perennially optimistic, married New Rochelle native Mary Anne Foster Scott. The couple had four children. Johnson is survived by three children—a daughter and two sons—and number of grandchildren.