Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community on Dec. 11, 2023. – Ed.
I write to share the news that Gerald (Jerre) Homer Johnson, Professor of Geology, Emeritus, passed away on September 18, 2023, in Boulder, Colorado. Born on February 16, 1936, in LaGrange, Indiana, Jerre was the son of Lucile Elizabeth Fonner Johnson and Chester Ellsworth Johnson. After attending an Amish primary school and high school in LaGrange, he earned his B.S., Master’s degree, and Ph.D. in Geology at Indiana University. For two years, he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. He married Marilyn Ann Studebaker in 1958. After teaching briefly at Indiana University, he and Marilyn moved to Williamsburg, where he took a position with the Geology department at William & Mary in 1965. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1970 and Professor in 1977, and retired in 2001 after 36 years of dedicated service to William & Mary.
A paleontologist by training, Professor Johnson was a versatile faculty member who taught courses ranging from Paleontology to Geology of the United States to Environmental Geology to Hydrogeology. He also played an active role in the development of the Geology curriculum and developed a field course to the Colorado Plateau area that he taught for decades. Professor Johnson was a true “public servant” of geology. He was a widely recognized expert on Coastal Plain geology, working on a variety of stratigraphic and paleontologic problems, including on the Chesapeake Bay Impact Structure. He was involved in geologic research on projects ranging from Jamestown Island to Ethiopia to Mars.
He was extensively published, contributing to hundreds of books, academic articles, scholarly papers, and maps. Jerre was particularly proud of his successful effort to make the Chesapecten jeffersonius scallop – the first fossil described in North America – the state fossil of Virginia. He was also thrilled when, after waiting several decades to get access to a site near the James River, he and dozens of enthusiastic volunteers were able to excavate the bones and tusks of a 12,000-year-old mastodon.
Professor Johnson’s service to William & Mary included serving as department chair from 1996-1999, working on numerous committees, advising hundreds of students, and serving on committees of graduate students for the School of Marine Science. In addition to his teaching and service to the local community, he was elected Director of the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation Service.
During his tenure at William & Mary, Professor Johnson inspired and influenced thousands of students both in and out of the classroom. He also led field trips for pre-school students, taught elementary school classes, led workshops and field trips for K-12 teachers and mentored high school students. Throughout his life, he found great pleasure in reaching out to the wider community, teaching courses at the Governor’s School for the Sciences and Christopher Newport University and visiting local schools.
Professor Johnson received many awards for his contributions, including the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award (1974), the Conservation Achievement Award of the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation Department (1989), the SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award (1991), the Outstanding Educator Award given by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1994), the William & Mary President’s Award for Community Service (1996), the John H. Moss Award given by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (1998), and the Thomas A. Graves Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching (2000).
Professor Johnson will be remembered for his pizza parties, mischievous sense of humor and bad puns, for the gingerbread houses he made every Christmas, and for the many field trips he led to places of geologic wonder. Survivors include his wife Marilyn, his sons Mark and David Johnson, his daughter Jeannine Johnson Maia, and his grandchildren Daniel, Tyler, Ethan, and Allie.
Gifts in his honor are welcome and can be made to the Geology Dept Founders Fund Endowment (1870) at William & Mary (https://give.wm.edu/). A Celebration of Life will take place on Sunday, February 18th at 3 p.m. at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, located at 500 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185.