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Obituary: Paul Johnson

Banner Staff | 3/7/2012, 11:35 a.m.
Paul Edwin Johnson, the former Boston...

Paul Edwin Johnson, the former Boston Police Area B commander and chief of Harvard University police, passed away in his sleep on Feb. 27. He was 82 years old. 

Johnson was born in Newport, R.I., on May 31, 1930. His parents, Mildred Cordelia Ford Mitchell and Sidney Vincent Johnson, already had two children, Leonard V. Johnson and his sister Evelyn Johnson. The family subsequently relocated to Boston, Mass.

After completing Boston English High School, Johnson was hired by the Boston Police Department (BPD). Officer Johnson advanced quickly in the BPD from police officer to patrol officer, community services officer, sergeant and deputy superintendent.

His leadership role in the BPD coincided with some of the most difficult days in Boston. As such, he was responsible for supervising a platoon of tactical officers whose primary duties were to ensure the safety of students being bused to various neighborhood schools in compliance with court ordered desegregation. Johnson was Director of Training and Education of the entire BPD, which included the rank of commanding officer of the Boston Police Academy.

He was eventually promoted to commander of Area B, which included Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. Throughout this six-year period he became exposed to the Harvard University campuses, including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Dental School, and the teaching hospitals that form the Longwood Medical complex. His handling of the people in these sophisticated and complex institutions would position him for his next career.

In 1984, then-Harvard University Vice President Dan Steiner announced the appointment of Harvard’s new chief of police with these words, “He is tough and professional. I am convinced that he is by far the best choice for the job.” And with that announcement Chief Johnson would serve the Harvard University community for the next twelve years.

Chief Johnson would subsequently retire from Harvard, and before he could get comfortable in his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, he was called by the National Basketball Association (NBA) to supervise the safety and security of the professional players on the Boston Celtics as well as the visiting teams.

He was a devoted family man having been married to Louise Johnson for 48 years. Louise and their daughters, Paula Johnson of Templeton, Mass.; Denise Johnson of Tuscon, Ariz.; Cheryl Chapman and her husband Grayson Chapman of Dorchester, Mass.; and the late Lysa Johnson of Roxbury, Mass., completed their family. And nothing lit up his eyes like his grandson,  Jared Johnson.

He was a past steward at Charles Street AME Church and in the summer months he was an active member and usher at Union Chapel on Martha’s Vineyard; the founding President of MAAAP, now the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers; a member of the Prince Hall Grand Masonic Lodge and board member of the Harvard University Credit Union. His association with Boston sports legends JoJo White and Mo Vaughn led to his role in many youth programs including becoming board chairman of the Mo Vaughn Youth Development Program.

Mr. Johnson was very active in the Bachmars, one of Boston’s most venerable social clubs, where he previously served as president and chair of their annual holiday celebration.

Services for Mr. Johnson will be held on Saturday, March 10th, at Charles Street Church (551 Warren Street Roxbury, Mass.). The wake will be at 11 a.m. Memorial Services will be held at 12 p.m.

Mr. Johnson’s body was donated for medical research to the Harvard University Anatomical Division.

Donations may be made to the United Negro College Fund in Boston in lieu of flowers.