Imogene B. Johnston

Republican Party activist had been first secretary of the Harford County Council and coordinated various political campaigns

(Baltimore Sun )
November 06, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Imogene B. Johnston, long active in Harford County Republican Party politics and a community activist, died Oct. 26 at Senator Bob Hooper Hospice in Forest Hill of complications from a fall.

She was 89.

A daughter of a coal-mine supervisor and a homemaker, the former Imogene Rollins Bane was born and raised in Beckley, W.Va. She was a 1940 graduate of Mark Twain High School in Crab Orchard, W.Va.

While attending West Virginia University where she earned a degree in business, she met and fell in love with Drexel M. Johnston.

After marrying in 1948, the couple moved to Baltimore where Dr. Johnston studied dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School, and she worked as manager of Hutzler department store's Colonial Room restaurant.

After Dr. Johnston graduated from dental school in 1956, he established an office in Perry Hall and the couple settled in Joppa.

In addition to managing her husband's office, Mrs. Johnston began volunteering in Harford County. She was president of the Harford County Tuberculosis Association, which later merged with the American Lung Association of North Central Maryland.

She was a member of the board of the Harford Opera Theater, and was a board member of 15 years of the Liriodendron Foundation.

She also had served on the board of the Baltimore Museum of Art and had been a member of the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board, which provides art funding for local groups.

Mrs. Johnston's foray into Harford County Republican politics came when she was elected to the Harford County Republican Central Committee.

Mrs. Johnston, who had staffed Republican headquarters and coordinated many political campaigns including her own, was narrowly defeated in 1970 for a seat in the House of Delegates.

She also managed several campaigns for Harford County judges, including Albert P. Close, William O. Carr, Cypert O. Whitfil, Broadnax Cameron Jr. and Maurice W. Baldwin Jr.

"She was a Republican before it was popular to be a Republican. And she was an old-fashioned Republican who believed in working with the other party, unlike today, where it's adversarial and contentious," said Carr, county administrative judge and chief judge of the Harford County Circuit Court.

"She was just a fantastic lady who had outstanding organizational abilities which she coupled with a good sense of humor," he said.

In 1970, she served as secretary of the Harford County Charter Home Rule Board, which was successful in passing a county-wide referendum that changed local government from a county commissioner system to the present county executive and county council model

With the change in governance, Mrs. Johnston was hired in 1972 as the first secretary of the Harford County Council, and held the position until 1974 when she resigned and filed as a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates.

"My service with this first council has been a wonderful and stimulating experience. I will always cherish the memories," she wrote in a letter to council members at the time of her resignation.

"When she was secretary to the council in 1972, I volunteered with her when I was in high school. I learned a lot from Imogene," said James Massey, former Harford County Council administrator, who retired as director of the county board of elections.

"She was outgoing and helpful. Even when people came to complain she could satisfy their needs. She just had a great way of working with people and had integrity and honesty," said Mr. Massey. "When I was council administrator in the late 1990s, she came and volunteered with me."

Mrs. Johnston handled the Harford County campaigns of former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. "Imogene Johnston was a leading Harford County Republican and while never elected to office, did all the behind-the-scenes work," said Mrs. Bentley, a friend of more than 40 years.

"She earned the title of 'Mrs. Republican of Harford County,' in my opinion," said Mrs. Bentley. "She undoubtedly was one of the best organized persons I have ever known and she knew exactly how to tackle any problem presented before her. I credit my repeated successes in my elections to Congress in Harford County to her."

Mrs. Johnston, who had been elected secretary of the Maryland Republican State Central Committee in 1972, was a delegate to the Republican Convention that was held in Miami that year. She was also a presidential elector in 1988.

In 2001, she was named a Harford Living Treasure by the Harford County Council.

She attended Mountain Christian Church in Joppa.

Mrs. Johnston enjoyed collecting antiques and traveling.

A memorial service will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Liriodendron Foundation, 502 W. Gordon St., Bel Air.

In addition to her husband of 63 years, Mrs. Johnston is survived by a brother, Benjamin Bane of Crab Orchard; and many nieces and nephews.

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