John E. Johnston Jr., 81, avid bird fancier

July 10, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Dr. John Edward Johnston Jr., whose fondness for entertaining visitors with his collection of parrots and cockatiels earned him the nickname "The Birdman of Guilford," died of natural causes Thursday at his home. He was 81.

Dr. Johnston was born and raised in Guilford, where he resided until his death. He attended high school at the Brooks School, a boarding school in North Andover, Mass.

At 19, he was drafted into the Army and served with the 3rd Army under Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in World War II. He was with the 90th Infantry Division's 345th Field Artillery Battalion when troops landed for the D-Day assault on Normandy on June 7, 1944.

After the war, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., before transferring to the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a degree in oceanography in 1954. For nearly two decades, he worked with the Office of Naval Research, where he tested underwater technology.

He earned his doctorate in business administration from California Coast University when he was 69.

In 1948, he married Helen Toulson of Baltimore. The 20-year marriage ended in divorce.

In 1972, he married Mary Frances Brune, who died of cancer in 2004.

Dr. Johnston was engaged to be married in August to Jody Deramus of Mississippi.

A mathematician and an entrepreneur, Dr. Johnston was president of Forecast Research Systems Inc., which forecast the commodities and stock markets, and he also owned Membership Management Inc., which provides services to business such as keeping track of membership lists.

His expertise in stock-picking was the subject of a 1986 Sun article that described his predictions as "remarkably accurate - enough so that professional investors at banks and brokerage houses like Morgan Stanley, U.S. Trust, Johnson and Lemon and Smith Barney have been subscribing to his young investment service."

True to his word to never retire, he left his Timonium office about 6 p.m. the day of his death, according to his daughter Virginia Milanicz of Bel Air. "The man worked every single day of his life."

Dr. Johnston intrigued droves of visitors for years with a bird collection that numbered in the dozens, including Margaret, his prized blue macaw, and two other parrots, a South African Congo gray named Elisha and an Amazon named Thunder.

His fascination with birds took root when his wife gave him a cockatiel for his 50th birthday.

Soon after, he bought a second cockatiel and from there assembled his collection, he said in a 1992 Sun article that recounted the spectacle he created annually on the front lawn of his brick home on Greenway.

Each year as the tulips began to bloom in Sherwood Gardens, Dr. Johnston would post a hand-lettered sign along Greenway that read simply, "Come see my birds."

"Every spring we'd find hundreds of people in our front yard," his daughter said. "When the tulips were in bloom at Sherwood Gardens, people knew he'd be there. ... That was his passion. He lived for that."

He would pepper his visitors with interesting facts about parrots, such as their ability to solve complex problems. He had trained Margaret to perform an escape trick, according to a Sun article published last summer, and had taken the parrot to Hollywood in 2003 for an appearance on the Animal Planet program Pet Star.

"She's a national celebrity," he told The Sun of his prized Margaret, who had been so frequently photographed that Dr. Johnston joked that he would've been a lot richer if he had collected a dollar each time her photo was snapped.

He and his birds also entertained visitors at the family's home in Ocean City.

Dr. Johnston's mother, Katharine Smith Reynolds Johnston, died days after he was born. She had been the wife of R.J. Reynolds of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Cos., who died in 1918. She married Dr. Johnston's father, J. Edward Johnston, in 1921.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Second Presbyterian Church on St. Paul Street in Baltimore.

In addition to his daughter and his fiancee, he is survived by two sons, J. Edward Johnston III and Martin E. "Mike" Curran Jr., both of Baltimore; four other daughters, Anne Johnston of Missoula, Mont., Dr. Katharine Carter of Nahant, Mass., Michele Tadeo of Baltimore and Elizabeth Johnston of Charlottesville, Va.; and 10 grandchildren.

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