Zella White Johnson, 88, housekeeper, caregiver

October 21, 2005

Zella White Johnson, a former housekeeper who cared for the mentally ill in her home, died of breast cancer Monday at Liberty Heights Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The longtime Gwynn Oak resident was 88.

Born Zella Williams in Baltimore and raised in Mount Winans, she was a graduate of city public schools. During the 1930s, she worked as a cook and housekeeper for families in New York City, New England, Washington and Baltimore.

With the outbreak of World War II, she went to work at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River as a riveter. After the war, she was a cook at St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore and at what is now Mercy Medical Center.

Beginning in the early 1960s and continuing until she retired in 2000, Mrs. Johnson provided a home for the mentally ill who had been placed by the Maryland Department of Social Services.

"She created a loving family setting for the mentally impaired," said a granddaughter, Rhonda White.

Mrs. Johnson - who was known as Zell - enjoyed singing and listening to gospel music. She also liked preparing meals for her family and caring for stray neighborhood dogs and cats.

She was married for 13 years to Otis Johnson, a stevedore, who died in 1973.

Mrs. Johnson was a lifetime member of Wayman's African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1305 Washington Blvd., where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

She is also survived by a son, Richard Albert White Sr. of Baltimore; and a daughter, Joquetta Lynn Johnson of Gwynn Oak; three other grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Richard White ended in divorce.

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