Eleanor Johnson, 80, art museum docent

February 14, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Eleanor Boyd Johnson, a longtime Baltimore Museum of Art docent and avid gardener, died of breast cancer Saturday at Roland Park Place. She was 80.

Born Eleanor Boyd in Philadelphia and raised in Chestnut Hill, she was a 1939 graduate of the Springside School.

Mrs. Johnson was the daughter of Joseph Fulton Boyd, an official of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pa., and the granddaughter of Union Gen. Joseph Boyd, who led a successful escape from the notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., during the Civil War.

She was secretary to the headmaster of the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, and during World War II worked in San Francisco.

In 1946, she married Dr. J.T.H. "Jerry" Johnson, a retired Baltimore orthopedic surgeon who survives her.

Until moving to Roland Park Place retirement community in 2001, the couple had been longtime residents of Silk Purse, their home off Falls Road in the Rockland section of Baltimore County.

"She was an ardent conservationist and was instrumental in obtaining historic and conservation easements on her own and other Green Spring Valley properties," said Dr. Johnson.

Mrs. Johnson was an avid gardener and former president of the St. George Garden Club. She planted about 20,000 daffodil bulbs plus many other varieties of shrubs and trees on the grounds of her home, which often was included on Maryland House and Garden tours.

She had served on the boards of Children's Hospital and Center for Reconstructive Surgery and the Pickersgill and Broadmead retirement communities.

Mrs. Johnson was a docent at the BMA for 17 years until stepping down in 1999. She conducted general as well as specialized tours of the museum's various collections.

Her interests included the 1,400-year-old Antioch mosaics from what is now Turkey, and Maryland-crafted furniture.

She also donated to the BMA two Rembrandt Peale portraits; a 19th-century American mariner pattern quilt; and a print by American painter and sculptor Leonard Baskin.

"Ellie was wonderful. She could work with both children and adults, and we received so many glowing letters about her tours," said Ellen F. Gottfried, administrative assistant in the BMA's Education Department. "She made you feel as though the works of art were her friends, and she was introducing you to them."

Mrs. Johnson was also known for her in-depth research and tour preparedness.

"She was always prepared and did all of her own research. With Ellie, you never had to worry because she just knew it," Mrs. Gottfried said.

Mrs. Johnson enjoyed bird watching and conducting birding tours for children at the Cylburn Arboretum. She also traveled to Kenya, Rwanda, Mexico and Costa Rica to observe birds.

"She also combined her interest in art and ornithology with an amusing and erudite series of illustrated lectures on the place of the hoopoe bird in ancient art, literature and religions," said her husband.

Mrs. Johnson wintered on Sanibel Island, Fla., where she was an active member of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society.

She was a longtime parishioner of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 1401 Carrollton Ave., Ruxton, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 22.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, Dr. William Fell Johnson of Santa Fe, N.M.; two daughters, Mary J. "Polly" Bayrd of Minnetonka, Minn., and Anne T. Johnson of St. Paul, Minn.; and seven grandchildren.

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