Orlando T. Johnson, 77 veteran, nuclear physicist

September 23, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Orlando Theophilus Johnson, a retired nuclear physicist, died of heart failure Monday at University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 77 and lived in Bolton Hill.

For 38 years, Mr. Johnson studied mechanics at the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG).

In December 1976, he was given the Kent Award -- the lab's highest honor, named after Army officer R. H. Kent -- for his research. The citation noted his "outstanding leadership and consistent technical excellence."

The author of many technical papers on foreign aircraft and American helicopters, Mr. Johnson was part of a 500-member unit that worked at Aberdeen after World War II. It has since merged into the Army Research Lab, with its headquarters in Adelphi.

Mr. Johnson was also equal employment officer for his APG lab.

He moved to Baltimore about 40 years ago, living on St. Georges Avenue before settling in Bolton Hill, where he was a member of the Bolton Hill Improvement Association.

Born in Plainfield, N.J., Mr. Johnson was a 1947 graduate of West Virginia State College, where he majored in mathematics and physics. He attended Tuskegee Institute, New York University and the University of Delaware.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force and was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, who broke military aviation's color barrier.

"My father was an adventurous man. He enjoyed challenges of all kinds," said his daughter, Carla M. Johnson, a school teacher who lives in Charleston, W. Va. "And while he never joined a church, he recently accepted Christ in his life."

In retirement, Mr. Johnson participated in the Glass Club, a group of collectors of cut and pressed glass and 1930s Depression glass. He often sought examples at Howard Street antique shops near his home.

He enjoyed playing tennis in Bolton Hill and Ocean City, and had a green belt in aikido, a Japanese martial art.

In the early 1950s, he wed Catherine Eubank, a School of the Chimes teacher who died in 1970. In 1973, he married Grace Magnusson Grube, who died in 1996.

Funeral services for Mr. Johnson will be held at noon tomorrow at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

He is also survived by another daughter, Nancy DePalma of Springfield, Va.; his stepmother, Mary Wright of Plainfield, N.J.; a brother, Robert Wright of Stockton, Calif.; and a sister, Rene Wright, also of Plainfield.

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