November 22, 2017

Norman Woodason Johnson Jr.

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Norman Woodason Johnson Jr., of Seekonk, 86, passed away suddenly on July 13. He was the son of Norman Woodason Johnson and Josephine Conner Johnson of Chicago, where he grew up.

After earning a BA at Carleton College in Minnesota, then a PhD at the University of Toronto in 1966, Norman was a professor of mathematics at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, for thirty-one years, retiring in 1998. His area of math was geometry, and he was adept at making models of geometric figures. The 92 three-dimensional geometric shapes of a certain type, which he first identified as a complete set, are now known as the “Johnson solids.” His book, Geometries and Transformations, is about to come out from Cambridge University Press. An early expert on computers as well, Norman helped Wheaton to integrate them into teaching and administration. He is further remembered on campus as an effective advocate for the faculty.

Norman also enjoyed theater and movies, travel, and baseball. He often attended math conferences in Europe and took the opportunity to sightsee afterward. He always rooted for the Redsox, reading the sports pages first thing during the season, and enjoyed going to Pawsox games. He was an avid reader of books on history and biography. His excellent memory meant that he could be counted on to answer obscure questions about baseball or American politics or popular culture of the 1940s and 1950s. His neighbors knew him also as the one who faithfully walked for exercise every day.

Norman is survived by his partner of thirty-five years, Eva Stehle, his sister Judith Jager and her husband Thomas Jager, of Evanston, IL, his sister Penny Burns and her husband Robert Burns, of Glen Ellen, CA, and four nieces and nephews and their spouses and children. In 2000 Penny and Robert Burns established an endowment at Wheaton in Norman’s name for lectures and other activities that illustrate the broader relevance of math to many other areas of life. Norman himself gave the “Johnson lecture” in 2008. He is much missed by family, friends, and colleagues.

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