Determination runs in her veins

Plodding along the route of a marathon race last October, former Mayor Dorothy Johnson of Appleton, Wis., drew strength from thoughts of her pioneer ancestor, Mary Blood, and after eight grueling hours of walking, she finished the course.

She did it on a day other than when the race was scheduled. The Community First Fox Cities Marathon was held on a Sunday, the day Sister Johnson teaches the Sunday School gospel doctrine course and directs the singing in sacrament meeting in the Appleton Ward."Those two things are more important than walking a marathon, and the race isn't compatible with the spirit of the Sabbath," she reflected in a telephone interview.

So several days before the event, Sister Johnson, 66, walked the entire 26.2-mile course.

"I just loved it," she exclaimed. "I thought a couple of times I was going to die. But then I thought of Mary, and thought if she could do it, I probably could too."

Sister Johnson's voice broke with emotion as she told of Mary and her husband, William. They joined the Church in England, then crossed the ocean to be with the saints in Nauvoo. Three weeks later, William died. As a widow, Mary gave birth before crossing the plains with the pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Four generations later, Dorothy was born in Salt Lake City to Elmer N. and Marita Blood Christofferson.

The determination of Mary Blood does run in Sister Johnson's veins. Last April, she stepped down, having served three terms as Appleton's first woman mayor.

Her being mayor was a feat few would have dared predict back in 1979, the first time she ran for election to that office.

"People were nigh unto fainting when I made the announcement. They said: `You are a woman; you are a Mormon. This will never go.' "

But she won with 92 percent of the vote, and repeated the accomplishment for the 1984 and 1988 terms, again with substantial majorities.

A Newsweek magazine article last Dec. 26 about the progress of women in Appleton politics noted: "During the 12 years of Johnson's mayoralty, Appleton became Wisconsin's fastest growing city, expanded its tax base and pushed ahead with programs like a downtown retail mall and privatization of the city ambulance service. Though some of this was and still is controversial, Johnson proved so effective at building consensus on the city council that she never once used her veto - and never once, she says, lost an issue she really cared about.

"Her real achievement was what Johnson herself describes as a massive change in attitude' toward women in local politics. She never ran as a woman candidate, and shebrought no feminist agenda at all.' But her performance as mayor led to a gender upheaval on the city council, where six of 18 current members are women. . . .`It took somebody to do this, to dispel the notion that women would somehow stumble or make a frightful mistake or collapse under pressure, or whatever the fear was,' Johnson says."

Sister Johnson never expected to lead what Newsweek called "a quiet revolution" - in Appleton or anywhere else.

A graduate of East High School in Salt Lake City, where about 98 percent of the student body went on to higher education, she attended the University of Utah. There she received a bachelor's degree in science with a minor in literature and became a registered nurse at LDS Hospital.

Soon afterward, she went on a two-year mission to Mexico and Guatemala, arriving in November 1948.

"My companion and I were the first sister missionaries in Quetzaltenango. It was a great adventure."

After her mission, Sister Johnson worked for a doctor in Salt Lake City, then went to Logan to work briefly at the hospital there as director of nurses.

"Then I found my sweetheart and married in June 1952," she said. "He had just returned from his mission. We met at Church.

Her husband, Rue C. Johnson, recently retired as assistant to the chancellor at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay campus.

At the time they met, he had been in the military service, on a mission and was completing his third year at Utah State University. He obtained a bachelor's and master's degree at BYU and then earned a doctorate at Indiana University in Bloomington, later serving as assistant to the chancellor.

There the family lived for 18 years, raising five children: Chad, David, Leslie Ann, Jeffrey and Cathryn. All the children have served missions.

Later they moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where Brother Johnson was assistant to the chancellor and academic dean at the Indiana and Purdue university campuses. He served as president of the Fort Wayne Stake.

While the family was living there, Brother Johnson was offered a position in Appleton as dean of the University of Wisconsin Fox Valley Campus. On a trip to Salt Lake City, they visited President Spencer W. Kimball and consulted with him about the new position.

"I remember President Kimball was so gracious and kind," Sister Johnson recalled, "and he said: `Pres. Johnson, you take this new job. This will be all right, and you will find blessings.' So that seemed very reassuring to us."

She had a perfect record of never missing a month doing her Relief Society visiting teaching - a record that is still intact. To preserve the record she drove back to Fort Wayne to do her visiting teaching until she received a visiting teaching assignment in Appleton.

Sister Johnson has served in other teaching and leadership positions in Relief Society, has been an early-morning seminary teacher and has twice served as seminary district supervisor, a position she currently holds.

In 1976, while she was working part time in geriatric nursing at a retirement home, a citizens group asked her to run for the school board. She wrestled with the decision, reluctant to be in the public eye. But ultimately she ran for the office and was elected in 1977, leading a field of 11 candidates in the primary election and four in the final election.

After fasting and prayer and receiving encouragement from citizens and her husband and children, Sister Johnson ran for the highest office in Appleton, a city of 66,000 people with a $40 million budget, a net worth of some $3 billion and about 1,000 employees.

Before assuming each public office, she sought and received a priesthood blessing from her husband and bishop. The blessings were apparently efficacious, because she was a popular public official, stood for what she felt was right and in each case prevailed.

Sister Johnson said she sees now that her pattern of life was rather predictable from her patriarchal blessing. "My children were all grown and were about to be launched out on their own, so I wasn't needed at home anymore. I have often thought if this opportunity [public lifeT had come earlier, I would not have taken it because when my children were little, I was at home. I believe that women have varying spheres of action and obligation according to the season and circumstance."

Since she stepped down in April, the former mayor has been busy serving on community boards and speaking to civic and religious groups. A main thrust is her service on the Fox Valley Cultural Planning Commission.

She quipped that her speeches - a recent one was at a local Catholic church - always turn out to be sacrament meeting talks or Relief Society or priesthood lessons, as she finds ways to apply gospel principles to society in general.

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