Gene P. Johnson, 57, manager of international shipping firm

May 25, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Gene P. Johnson, general manager for an international shipping business who spent his life in Baltimore maritime circles, died of cancer Saturday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The South Baltimore resident was 57.

Born on South Charles Street, he was raised by his mother and grandparents after her divorce. In his youth, he delivered newspapers and worked at the Friese meat counter at the Cross Street Market.

"He didn't have much money but liked to work," said his wife of 18 years, Gilda Johnson, a community activist. "He was a high-energy man."

Mr. Johnson became a Boy Scout and joined the Luther League at Christ Lutheran Church, where he remained active throughout his life.

He also performed with the Hill Street Players, a theater group named for the street where his church is located.

Mr. Johnson was a 1966 honors graduate of Southern High School and attended the University of Maryland, College Park before serving in the Army in Vietnam.

After his discharge in 1972, Mr. Johnson was hired by an uncle, an official of the Furness, Withy and Co. steamship firm, to be his company's import manager for the old Kerr Steamship Co.

"With no previous experience, Gene was forced to hit the ground running when his uncle died within a month of hiring him," his wife said yesterday.

Mr. Johnson soon learned the shipping business and later worked in management with Atlantic and the Orient Overseas container lines before joining the China Ocean Shipping Co., where he became general manager of COSCO Container Lines Americas' Baltimore office a decade ago.

"He was a strong supporter of the port of Baltimore," said Cynthia Burman, manager of business development for the Maryland Port Administration.

"Gene was one of the best-known and best-loved people in our industry," said Howard Finkel, executive vice president of COSCO Container Lines Americas, which is based in Secaucus, N.J.

Mr. Johnson was a 32nd-degree Mason, a past master of Howard Lodge No. 101 and belonged to the Scottish Rite.

A longtime Republican, he was secretary of the Baltimore City Board of Elections at his death.

Mr. Johnson developed esophageal cancer nearly three years ago but refused to stop working and was at his desk until this month.

He regularly attended the Preakness and had hopes of going this year but became ill and died the day of the race.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Christ Lutheran Church, Charles and Hill streets, where he was head usher.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his daughter, Carolyn "CeCe" Johnson of Baltimore; his mother, Audrey Johnson of Parkville; his father, Lloyd Johnson of Blairsville, Ga.; a brother, Lee P. Johnson of Acworth, Ga.; and a half-sister, Lynne Johnson of Ellijay, Ga. Two previous marriages ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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