Jane Lee Johnson, Peabody Prep receptionist

September 01, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Jane Lee Johnson, a gourmet cook and homemaker who was associated with the Peabody Preparatory Department for many years, died Saturday of cardiac arrest at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Oakenshawe resident was 73.

Known as Jane Lee, she was scheduling coordinator and receptionist at the Towson branch of the Peabody Preparatory Department of the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

She began her career at the school in Mount Vernon Place in 1984 and moved to the Towson branch in 1987.

"She was the voice and face of the Towson branch. She knew everything there was to know about the school," said Ginny Frank, director of administrative services at the Towson branch.

"She was really a constant. She carried her knowledge of the branch and its students in her head and was the person the students really got to know since many of them were here for 10 or more years," Ms. Frank said. "She could tell a faculty member at an instant where this student was or what time he was dTC scheduled for a lesson. The faculty are really going to miss her because she was a connector."

"She didn't know how to play an instrument but she enjoyed Swing Era music and loved to jitterbug and was still jitterbugging up until a few years ago," said Susan Jane Behm, a daughter who lives in Towson.

Mrs. Johnson's other interest was gourmet cooking. While living with her then-husband who was serving in England with the Air Force during the early 1950s, she invented a dish she named Polynesian pork chops and rice.

"Dinner parties were the chief diversion of the officers' wives. But after a time, the typical English dishes, such as beef-and-kidney pie, became rather monotonous and so the problem was to dream up something different," she said in a 1968 article in the Sun Magazine, which published her recipe.

She credited spending part of her adult life in California and Texas with creating an interest in Tex-Mex cuisine.

She enjoyed preparing chili con carne, a dish, she told The Evening Sun in 1983, that was defined in a Mexican dictionary as being "a detestable dish sold from Texas to New York."

She described her dish as "full of spices that give it a zing with fire."

"I actually learned to cook from a Mexican girl who was my neighbor in Texas. I became enamored of the method and the nutritional value of some of the dishes," she told the newspaper. "For entertaining, it is so versatile. I can make a many splendored-meal of my stacked enchiladas."

Born in Berkley Springs, W.Va., she moved to Baltimore's Howard Park neighborhood when she was a child and studied in city schools, graduating from Forest Park High School in 1939.

After studying at Strayer Business College, she went to work as a secretary for Ballmar Corp., a builder of locomotives.

She later worked as a hostess in the Valley Room of the Hutzler Brothers Department store in Towson.

She enjoyed traveling and her cat Cheddar, who was her favorite companion, according to family members.

Her 1942 marriage ended in divorce. A memorial service was set for 7:30 p.m. today in the recital hall of the Towson Branch of the Peabody Preparatory Department, 949 Dulaney Valley Road.

She is survived by another daughter, Barbara Harrison Littleton of Hydes; a son, Steven Johnson Littleton of Santa Maria, Calif.; and two grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Peabody Preparatory Scholarship Fund, c/o Dean Fran Zarubick, 21 E. Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore 21202.

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