Jeh Vincent Johnson
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Jeh Vincent Johnson

Jeh Vincent Johnson passed away on January 27 at Vassar Brothers Hospital at the age of 89. Jeh is survived by his wife of 64 years, Norma Edelin Johnson, and his son Jeh Charles Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, and two grandchildren. His daughter Marguerite Johnson passed away in February 2020. Jeh was an active part of the Poughkeepsie community for 56 years. He was a pioneering black architect and lecturer in architecture at Vassar College for 34 years.

Jeh was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1931, to the prominent sociologist and president of Fisk University, Charles S. Johnson and his wife Marie. He was the youngest of four children. The name "Jeh", pronounced "Jay," was inspired by an African chief Jeh's father met on a League of Nations fact-finding mission to Liberia in 1930. Two of Jeh's older brothers were members of the famed Tuskegee Airman during World War II. Growing up, Jeh was considered a child prodigy, finishing first in his class in high school, he traveled north to attend Columbia College and Columbia School of Architecture. Jeh was valedictorian of his class in the School of Architecture. In between college and graduate school, Jeh was drafted in to the Army and assigned to the elite Army Counter Intelligence Corps. Following school Jeh practiced architecture in New York City for several years.

In 1963 Jeh and his family left New York City to join a school friend William Gindele in an architecture practice on Liberty Street in downtown Poughkeepsie. The family moved from Queens to Dutchess County, first to a home on Bower Road in Pleasant Valley and then to Cottom Hill. For decades the architecture firm Gindele & Johnson was responsible for the design of some of the area's most notable projects, ranging from the Poughkeepsie YMCA, the Poughkeepsie Day School, to the Main street mall complex built in the 1970s. At the same time, Jeh was active in the community as a member of the board of directors of Scenic Hudson and the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank and as a lecturer at Vassar. Many of his students at Vassar were themselves inspired by him to become architects. On the national level, in 1968 Jeh served on a presidential commission that studied urban housing, and was a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

Anyone who knew Jeh Johnson knew he loved to teach and he loved to talk. He had an amazing grasp of trivia that he would share with his students, children and grandchildren. He could at one point in his life recite the call letters of every 50,000-watt AM radio station east of the Mississippi, or the origin of the names "Sputyen Duyvil" or "bulldog." Fact-checkers were amazed to find his long exposes corroborated on Wikipedia, though he did not know how to consult the internet tool himself. Throughout his 89 years, spanning the Great Depression and life in the Jim Crow south, to the Oval office to see his son become a member of President Obama's cabinet, Jeh was always a gentlemen, and a great friend, husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and mentor to all he touched. We are all smarter and richer for it.

Because of COVID, there will be no funeral in the Poughkeepsie area. Consistent with his wishes, Jeh will be buried alongside his parents and two brothers at the family cemetery in Nashville. Tributes and donations in honor of Jeh's life may be made to either Vassar College or Fisk University.




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Published in Poughkeepsie Journal from Jan. 29 to Jan. 30, 2021.
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33 entries
March 1, 2021
In Appreciation of the Life of Jeh Vincent Johnson:

I share my deepest and heartfelt sympathy with the family of Jeh Vincent Johnson.

In 1973, I'd been swinging a hammer and cutting grass for the two years since dropping out of college, when I decided to pursue architecture. Having applied to Rhode Island School of Design I was scheduled for an interview. Upon learning of this, Jeh's sister, Pat Clifford (my mother's best friend since they met as children at Camp Atwater), was determined to have me stop in Poughkeepsie (NY) to meet her brother, "the architect". The drive from Philly to Providence was long and I was happy to spend a couple of days with Jeh, his beautiful wife (Norma), sweet and lovely daughter (Marguerite), and destined for greatness son Jeh, along the way.

While there, I visited his firm's office, toured the city filled with his work, and sat in on one of his Vassar class lectures; developing a remarkable architectural vocabulary over the course of my stay. And then, I don't know if it was something that I said or something that I didn't say, but Jeh uttered twelve words that I would carry with me throughout my career as an architect, business owner, corporate and construction executive - there is something more important than designing "fat" houses for rich folks.

As I left the Johnson home, headed for RISD, I was sent off with a new motto, two packs of Pall Malls (it was after all 1973 and I'd finished my pack of Camels the night before), and the distinct sense that I would ace my interview - I did. For that and the wonderfully rewarding career that followed, I appreciate Jeh Johnson, his inspiring insight and encouragement.

Jeh was a great man in a family of great men and women. Rest in peace, dear friend...
Richard Lemuel Sewell
Friend
February 18, 2021
I remember Jeh when I lived with his parents at Heritage House and he would come home from Columbia University for the weekend....God be wiith him and his wonderful family......
Herschel Stegar
Family
February 13, 2021
It was a great pleasure and privilege to serve on the Scenic Hudson Board with Jeh in the early 1990's. He was a man of great good humor, good judgement and management savvy.
These attributes and his architectural expertise and design perspective were valuable assets to our deliberations. We remember him with great respect and affection. We offer deep condolences to his extended family.
Marjorie L. Hart
February 12, 2021
I have fond memories of Mr Johnson. He was my valued professor at Vassar and although I did not become an architect I have managed my husband’s architectural firm with experience gained under his tutelage. He was a classmate of my father, Tom Davis, at Columbia. My fondest memory of him and his family was tutoring his son “Jeh Jeh” with Spanish and babysitting him as well as his sister, Marguerite when the Johnsons attended an architectural convention and we watched the Knicks win the National Championship in 1973. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Viki Davis Schaub
Friend
February 12, 2021
I have fond memories of Mr Johnson. He was my valued professor at Vassar and although I did not become an architect I have managed my husband’s architectural firm with experience gained under his tutelage. He was a classmate of my father, Tom Davis, at Columbia. My fondest memory of him and his family was tutoring his son “Jeh Jeh” with Spanish and babysitting him as well as his sister, Marguerite when the Johnsons attended an architectural convention and we watched the Knicks win the National Championship in 1973. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Viki Davis Schaub
Friend
February 11, 2021
There is something nice about everybody, but everything was nice about Mr. Johnson. I treasure the memories that I have of him. Words can not adequately express my admiration for him. Heaven has another Angel.
Greg Griffin Sr
Family
February 10, 2021
So very sorry for your loss. I met Professor Johnson in 1984 as a freshman at Vassar. I was in a class and also had a work/study opportunity with him. He was always kind, unassuming, and helpful. As an African-American female it was an inspiration seeing someone of his caliber in that field.
Claire Lyte-Graham
Student
February 8, 2021
In loving memory of a wonderful friend and mentor.
Erika [Talesnik] Krieger
February 8, 2021
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Michèle & the team
February 5, 2021
I’m so very sorry to hear about Cousin Jeh.
Dorothy Gillem
Family
February 5, 2021
I’m so very sorry to hear about Cousin Jeh.
Dorothy Gillem
Family
February 3, 2021
I was so fortunate to spend an afternoon with Mr. Johnson in January 2018, recording an oral history about his long friendship with Max Bond. It was a highlight of my life and we became occasional penpals over the last two years, so this news brings me great sadness. I grieve for Jeh Johnson and hope that the news of his wonderful career and brilliance reaches many ears. Mr. Johnson's family and friends will be on my mind.
Brian Goldstein
Friend
February 3, 2021
My deepest condolenses. We were cousins growing up, me from the North, he from the South as children. In recent years we would chat at length about our lives. I will miss the the long phone calls we had about our lives. He was one of the most genuine individuals one could know. You'll be sorely missed.
Earle Robinson Jr MD
Family
February 2, 2021
May his soul rest in Peace.
My daughter received a scholarship from RC Ketcham in his name.
My condolences to his family .
Sherrill Whyte
Acquaintance
February 2, 2021
A wonderful person
August Walker
Friend
February 1, 2021
The magic of the internet! I cried reading all the kind words for Jeh. Many memories returned. I thank your mom for giving us a place to stay when my family returned from Europe. I thank you for giving us a place to go to get out of the city on a Saturday or Sunday. Up the Taconic State Parkway and we are at Jeh and Norma's, yay! I remember going into the living room where all the men were gathered around the TV. What's going on? Shh, Notre Dame is playing. I can't attend the funeral but I am with the family and memory lane is long and beautiful.
Your Cousin, Anthony
Anthony DeMond
February 1, 2021
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Kim O'Connor
February 1, 2021
I am thankful to have known Professor Johnson and to have
received his professional advice. Long after retirement from Vassar College, his contributions positively impacts our lives. Karen Getter, College Administrator
Karen Getter
Coworker
February 1, 2021
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ConnieLaRossa & Sue Ramanathan
January 31, 2021
Will miss my beloved cousin.. god bless.. condilences to Cousin Jeh and all the family❤
Theo J Foreman
Family
January 31, 2021
Mr. Jeh V. Johnson was an inspiration to generations of architects and he will be sorely missed by our profession, especially by those who are members of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Mr. Johnson was NOMA’s last surviving founder, one among a bold group of 12 pioneers who had the courage to imagine new possibilities for architects of color in 1971. I had the great privilege of serving as NOMA’s 33rd President from 2019-2020, which gave me the unique opportunity to meet Mr. Jeh V. Johnson as we celebrated him at our annual conference in Brooklyn, NY in 2019. Being in his presence and publicly acknowledging his contributions to our organization was among the greatest highlights of my term as NOMA President and a memory that I will cherish as I work with my NOMA colleagues to continue Mr. Johnson’s legacy. My heart goes out to his family, friends and community in the wake of this tremendous loss. Jeh may be gone, but he will not be forgotten by NOMA. Special thanks to Mr. Jeh V. Johnson’s family for sharing him with our organization for 50 years.

Sending Love & Light,
Kimberly Dowdell
NOMA Past President

Kimberly Dowdell
Friend
January 31, 2021
My condolences to the entire family. Having grown up in Poughkeepsie and know the family as a child it is very moving to recall the fond memories of our families and times shared at The Poughkeepsie Day School.
My his soul rest in peace and may his family bask in the beauty of his legacy and love.
Josh levin
joshua levin
Friend
January 31, 2021
Very sorry for your loss. It was always a pleasant experience when Jeh and I worked on various projects in Poughkeepsie.

Bob Dietz
Bob Dietz
Friend
January 31, 2021
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived. Rest in peace - my former business partner and mentor. A Gentleman
and a Gem. Your guidance and support has been a Treasure. Thanks for your guidance and support to LeGendre/Johnson/McNeil
Architects & Planners.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Laurette Michele LeGendre, AIA, NCARB, STS
Silver Spring, MD
Laurette LeGendre, AIA,NCARB,STS
Coworker
January 30, 2021
A KIND SOUL HAS PASSED.

As a member of the City of Poughkeepsie Traffic Commission and Police Department in the 1970s & 80s through the planning department, I had the pleasure to work with Jeh. Years later, we had the chance to reminisce in person and on the phone. I felt important and so glad to have known him.

SINCERELY,

RICHARD A. LEIGH

PLEASANT VALLEY, N.Y.
Richard A. Leigh
Friend
January 30, 2021
I had the honor of working with Jeh on several housing and community development projects in Poughkeepsie. He was brilliant, kind and caring. Jeh's imprint on this community is lasting. When his son, Jeh, was appointed to Obama's cabinet as Homeland Security Secretary, I wrote to Jeh and we reconnected over several conversations. He was so very proud of his family. A beautiful, talented and compassionate soul. I am blessed to have known him.
Andrea H Ciminello
Friend
January 30, 2021
Deep condolences to the Johnson family. I had the honor of knowing Jeh Johnson during my years at Scenic Hudson on whose Board he served. As director of Scenic's Riverfront Program I tapped Jeh's expertise and wisdom on more than one occasion when addressing a riverfront development issue. He was always kind and on point with his guidance. When I saw his son as President Obama's DHS I had a special feeling of gratitude for the Johnson family, and will always remember Jeh with great fondness.
Deborah Meyer DeWan
January 30, 2021
Prayers for the Johnson family. Working the polls at Sheafe Rd. School for a number of years, I looked forward to meet Mr. and Mrs. Johnson when they came to vote.
Richard McHugh
Friend
January 30, 2021
I remember Jeh as a friend and helpful individual. In particular, when I was an attorney at IBM, but doing pro Bono work living in Newburgh, the NAACP had an urgent need for some photocopies. Jeh opened his offices in Poughkeepsie on a Sunday and allowed us to make copies. One day he told me the secret of urban development - cities tended to grow around the location of banks! Rest In Peace, my friend. Morehouse (‘61/62).
Leroy Wilson, Jr
Friend
January 29, 2021
To jeh and Susan sorry for your loss
Debbie
January 29, 2021
Mr. Johnson, my favorite teacher at Vassar. I think of you often when playing with floor plans always remembering your encouragement and personal attention, teaching us not only to draft but to design with thoughtfulness and care. Thank you.
Kiai (Eunice) Kim
Student
January 29, 2021
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January 29, 2021
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