Services for Richard F. Johnston, 89, Lawrence, will be 2 pm Monday November 24, 2014, at Neuvant House of Lawrence.
Richard F. Johnston passed away at Neuvant House on November 15, 2014, with his daughter and caring staff by his side. Richard was born in Oakland, CA in 1925. Early in life, he developed an interest in zoology, with a particular fascination in birds. After serving in the Army in WWII and recovering from injuries sustained in the European theater, he attended UC Berkeley, where he met his future bride, Lora. Their three children Regan, Janet and Cassandra were all born in California while Richard finished his education earning a PhD in biology.
Richard came to Lawrence in 1958 to join the Zoology Department at the University of Kansas and to become curator of the Natural History Museum. During his long career at KU, he devoted his energies to conducting research and mentoring many graduate students. His research focused on studying the adaptation of the English House Sparrow to different environments. These studies involved collecting many specimens from Europe and North America and obtaining physical measurements for analysis. Due to advances in genetic sequencing, these specimens are still valuable to scientists today. Observing the pigeons roosting on the ledge outside his office window led Richard in another direction. His work with pigeons culminated in the publication by Oxford University Press in 1995 of the book Feral Pigeons, co-authored with Marian Janiga.
Richard derived great pleasure from roaming the woods looking for mushrooms, tending to his small vineyard, making wine, and above all, enjoying his wife Lora’s wonderful cooking. Richard is survived by his daughters Regan, Janet, Cassie, and two grandsons Miles, and Winn McEnery.
He was very fond of the many feline and canine companions he had throughout his life. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Humane Society of Lawrence Kansas.
Messages & Condolences
Richard F, Johnston
I first met Richard in 1962 when he was on a sabbatical at the EGI in Oxford. We had a common interest in the House Sparrow: Richard in their skeletons to find if there had been changes in the birds introduced to the USA from Europe, while I was studying their behaviour. I got to known the family well through many subsequent visits. These culminated in a visit to Sardinia when Richard had moved on to studying Feral Pigeons and was collecting specimens of their ancestor, the Rock Dove; Richard was only concerned with their skeletons and this presented a problem to our wives finding different ways to cook the flesh each evening.
Richard was a delight with a wicked sense of humour and a great interest in wine that with difficulty he made from grapes grown on his farm near Lawrence: the Kansas climate made this very problematic, though I have enjoyed a bottle from a rare successful vintage. I am not a biologist and most of all I am indebted to the generous way he helped and guided me in my studies until he was no longer capable.
I should like to convey my condolences to his three daughters I first met when they were schoolgirls
I cherish my time as one of Dr. Johnston’s students. His guidance went beyond the classroom. I remember when he first started his vineyard … It is good to know he made his wine. My thoughts are with his family.
Sending thoughts of love and compassion to his family. I remember him, as did so many others, as a kind, generous researcher, patient and willing to tolerate many off-the -wall questions from a university public relations staffer about his work. In time, he and his wife, Lora, invited me and my long-time naturalist friend and writer, Bil Gilbert and wife, Ann, out to their farm one spring day to join in a mushroom hunt. Somewhere I have a comic story he shared about a bird in his care that seemed to comprehend human speech. If I can find it, I will share. My other memories of him are that he often rode a bicycle to campus and his tale of crawling out onto an icy ledge outside his office in Dyche Hall to save some pidgins in peril.
Like the end of any good life, Richard Johnston’s passing is a cause for celebration and sadness, and I am feeling both, deeply (if, as Dr. Johnston might have pointed out, it is possible for one to “feel” celebration). Reading the notes from his other former students and colleagues brings back wonderful memories of my time at KU, and I agree with the consensus that he was a class act, a true scholar, and above all else, a kind and generous man. He was also a prodigious graduate adviser, with a career total of 39 students successfully completing degrees under his supervision and dozens more benefiting from his advice and service on their committees. If each of us had been as prolific as our mentor, the world would now be overrun with RFJ’s “academic progeny”; and even though most of us have fallen far short of that mark, Dr. Johnston’s remarkable legacy has touched ornithology throughout the world. My condolences to his family, and my heartfelt gratitude for having known him.
Larry (Heany) summed it up best…”a gentleman and scholar”….truly one of the best I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I gave a seminar at Oregon State University today but did not know that he’d passed. So I guess it was fitting that I showed a photograph of him and acknowledged him as my adviser for my Masters and Ph.D. I’ve thought of him many times over the years and have used him as my model for mentoring students. I’m sure his family knows, but there are many of us out there who owe him much.
Really sorry to learn of Dr. Richard Johnson’s death today. I only met him in person a couple of times. When I was a precocious young birder in my early teens I scored a copy of his “Birds of Kansas” (the one with the flying White Pelicans on the cover) and practically memorized the entire book. By the standards of today’s massive new volume it was quite brief but it was the cutting edge document of its time, succinct and authoritative. I carried it around for years until it finally fell apart…quite literally. I was glad to find a copy of his book in decent shape at one of the KOS SIlent Auctions a few years ago. He was a real class act in person, quite unassuming yet obviously a keen mind. I also recall for some reason a lengthy email he wrote as a contribution to the discussion of the term “zootie” that went into considerable detail about zoot suits and jazz music scene. I was impressed. Others knew him far better but he sure made a mark on my life just by publishing that book.
My condolences to the family. I was one of Dick’s first graduate students when he came to KU. I spent many evenings at his house having dinner and playing the piano while they played their recorders. Many fond memories.
My sincerest condolences to Dr. Johnston’s family. I was not a bird student but Richard served on my committee and was both helpful and kind. I am currently using his sparrow skeletons not for DNA but morphological comparison with a 1,500 year old collection of sparrow bones from owl pellets. Certainly agree with Larry Heany about the evolution class too: it was a great thing to find at KU after coming out of Dick Alexander’s at U. Michigan. Dr. Johnston is missed at KUMNH and the many excellent field trips to Marais des Cygnes.
Although not a KU student at the time I first met Dr. Johnston in 1973 and he made me feel very welcome in museum. After his retirement we served together on the Kansas Ornithological Society Board of Directors–he was always endeavoring to advance bird study in Kansas and beyond. A great life to celebrate.
RFJ was, in the finest sense of the terms, a gentleman and a scholar. The class on evolution I took from him at KU was one of the finest I took during all of my years as a student, and his publications on evolutionary processes are some of the most clearly written and insightful that I have ever read. He loved working with students, was always kind and generous with his time. There is much in his life to celebrate.
My condolenses to the family. As one of his former students, I can say that he was a great man and mentor and he will be truly missed by all who knew him.
I will take pleasure in knowing that at least a few of the Passer domesticus that visit my back yard feeder are descendants of individuals who were captured, weighed and measured by Professor Johnston or his students. His contributions to population biology were very important.
My condolences to the family during this sad time. Dr. Johnston was my mentor and friend during my PhD program at KU in the early 70’s.
I always appreciated how he was never too busy to visit with his students and you always felt like you had his complete attention and support. He was a great man and a role model for us all.
Such a great man! May he rests in peace!
My very best wishes and condolences to family and friends.
Working with RFJ on sparrows during my time in Lawrence at KU during the 1970s are part of the fond memories of my “good old days”. Dr Johnston was very supportive of my graduate career — thank you.
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