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Jon Johnston


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ATLANTA: Jon Johnston, professor, champion of individual rights


Both as a philosophy professor and as president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Jon Johnston relished the exchange of ideas.

Of the many issues the ACLU was involved in during the 1970s and '80s --- when he was most active --- freedom of speech probably was the most important to him, said Eleanor Brownfield of Atlanta, who worked with Mr. Johnston in the small ACLU office in Atlanta.

True to his beliefs, Mr. Johnston took time to listen and treated others' opinions with respect, Ms. Brownfield said.

"He was astoundingly polite under the most trying circumstances," she said.

"He was very intelligent and took pains not to make anyone else feel stupid. He was extremely generous, not only with his financial support, but also with his time. We knew we could call him anytime and he was always, always willing to help."

Mr. Johnston, 80, of Atlanta, died of respiratory failure Oct. 4 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had been hospitalized since a car crash collapsed his lungs in February. The body was cremated. A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech's D.M. Smith Building. Flanigan Funeral Home and Crematory in Buford is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Johnston earned a B.A. from Haverford College and an M.A. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He taught philosophy at Georgia State University from 1956 to 1966, then moved to Georgia Tech, where he taught from 1967 until he was hospitalized earlier this year.

Mr. Johnston was always interested in safeguarding individual rights, and even animal rights. He worked to stop the use of animals in medical research, said his wife, Estelle Johnston, of Atlanta.

"He always credited his mother for that," she said. "She was a very devoted mother and a musician. Mostly she lived a quiet housewife life. But she had very strong feelings about standing up for the underdog."

When he wasn't working, Mr. Johnston could often be found experimenting in the kitchen, his wife said.

"He loved to cook," she said. Le succes "was an elaborate dessert he made. It takes three days because there are three parts to it," she said.

Mr. Johnston also was a garage-sale regular, said his son Howard Johnston of San Jose, Calif.

"If it was a good deal, it came home with him whether he needed it or not," he said.

"Once, he even bought the garage. It was at an old farmhouse and he talked the owners into selling him the garage. He had some students disassemble it board by board and put it in his front yard."

Other survivors are daughter Hilarie Johnston of Gladwyne, Pa.; son Peter Johnston of Atlanta; a brother, H. Charles Johnston, of Little Rock, Ark.; and four grandchildren.

© 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Oct. 19, 2008
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