Monday, August 18, 2008

DU Professor Loved Hockey, DU & The Law

(left) Jim"JJ" Johnson taught over 30,000 students over his 60 year career at the University of Denver

From: Denver Post
by Virgina Culver


Jim Johnston, who taught an estimated 30,000 business-law students during 60 years at the University of Denver, died of cancer Aug. 6. He was 86.

A memorial at DU is planned Sept. 6, but the time and location haven't been determined.

Johnson "was a favorite teacher to a lot of people," said Jim Wiste, a former student and now owner of the Campus Lounge north of DU.

"He loved teaching and he loved the law. His door was always open, and everyone went to him for advice," Wiste said.

Johnston rarely forgot students because he kept seating charts for years, as well as index cards carrying students' names and other information.

And they didn't forget him.

JJ, as many people called Johnston, was entertaining, often wearing a half-mask on Halloween, said Alan Hendrix, who shared a suite of law offices with Johnston. But he "had a bombastic style. If someone nodded off in class he'd slam a textbook on the person's desk. Bam! The student would practically fly out of his seat."

"He thought law was most important in life," said his wife, Jean. "And he had the luxury of doing two things he wanted to do: He taught law classes in the morning and several nights a week, and practiced law during the day.

"He didn't harbor incompetence," said his wife, and always told students that he didn't grade on the curve — they had to earn the grade.

He also told students the previous years' exams were on file and he would use the same questions. "But each year I change the answers," he'd say.

Johnston became famous for his Good Friday lectures in which he summarized the trial of Jesus. He portrayed Jesus as a "rabble rouser who had been mistreated," said Jean Johnston, and painted the trial as "unfair."

Besides the law, Johnston loved hockey and rarely missed DU hockey games. Many times a year he and his wife would entertain hockey, soccer or ice skating students for apple pie. But the reason for the gatherings was to give the students a review of the class sessions they had missed while playing games out of town.

"I made quite a few apple pies," Jean Johnston said.

James J. Johnston was born Dec. 29, 1921, in Estherville, Iowa, and earned his law degree at the University of Iowa.

He came to Colorado in 1945, hoping the dry climate would alleviate his asthma. He got a typewriter and rented a small office near the DU business school, then in downtown Denver.

He began teaching part-time at DU and was told by the man who was dean of both the law and business schools that it would be wiser to teach in the business school, freeing him to have students as clients.

He and his wife were married May 4, 1948. The two met on a blind date and "he misled me into thinking he liked late-night jazz places and good coffee," said Jean Johnston. It worked in keeping up her interest in him, but "he had no passion for jazz," she said, laughing.

Johnston retired from law practice five years ago and from DU two years ago. But the school hired him back as a fundraiser.

In addition to his wife, Johnston is survived by his daughter, Jennifer Duniphan of Denver, five grandchildren and his sister, Elaine Burket of Kansas City, Mo. He was preceded in death by his two sons, Jeffrey Johnston and Jay Johnston.

1 comment:

dggoddard said...

"Jesus as a "rabble rouser who had been mistreated," said Jean Johnston, and painted the trial as "unfair." "

Classic. :-)