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Mainstay University Oceanographer Remembered Fondly

Ronald E. Johnson, a long-time faculty member in Old Dominion University's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who retired in 2007, has passed.

Johnson was remembered by colleagues as a great instructor to generations of students, whom he taught from 1968 until his retirement after nearly 40 years. He estimated that he had taught more than 80,000 students.

"He was a kind and caring person, loved ODU and was a mainstay of the department for years," said David Burdige, professor and Eminent Scholar.

Growing up near the coast in Oregon, Johnson was one of the first professors in the Institute of Oceanography of then-Old Dominion College.

His research interests in deep ocean circulation, waves and tides made him a popular commentator on sea-coast disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami that devastated India, Sri Lanka and other countries bordering on the Indian Ocean.

He made his true mark with the many freshmen he touched while teaching the intro course.

"Ron taught a very large freshman survey course on oceanography that many, many ODU students took," said Larry Atkinson, professor and Eminent Scholar of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences.

Burdige said Johnson was teaching the course when he arrived at the University more than 30 years ago. "All of the students loved 'Dr J.' I used to joke that he was one of the best-known oceanographers in Tidewater, second only to Jacques Cousteau, because of this class."

Johnson was also widely admired for his service to the University during his nearly four decades here. He served as national vice president for the Northeastern region of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, as assistant dean of graduate services in sciences, as chief oceanography department adviser and as board member of the ODU Credit Union.

Johnson was assigned to the Admissions Office for several years to assist in the recruitment of graduate students, particularly in the sciences. Johnson was also an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, rising to the rank of captain, with a certification as flight scientist, and serving in special projects for the Oceanographer of the Navy. He also represented the Office of Naval Research as a judge in the physical sciences for the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Roberta, who also retired in 2007 from an administrative position at Old Dominion, and two sons, Robert, a pilot and commander in the Naval Reserve, and Ronald Janka, a detective with the ODU Police Department.

A memorial service will be held on Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, 820 Colonial Ave., with a reception to follow.

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