Helen B. Johnson died on May 20, 2020 in Brunswick, Maine.
(President Clayton Rose sent the following message to the Bowdoin community on June 5, 2020)
To faculty and staff,
I am sorry to report that Helen B. Johnson, registrar emerita of the College, passed away on May 20, 2020, at the age of ninety-nine. As reported in the Portland Press Herald, “the cause was a life well lived and unrelated to COVID-19.”
Helen was held in high esteem by generations of alumni and faculty for her quiet efficiency, for her attention to detail, and for her genuine concern for the welfare of students and alumni. As Bowdoin’s registrar for thirty-two years, she enrolled first-year students, fielded questions about grades from anxious students, and provided transcripts for alumni who were applying for jobs or for admission to advanced degree programs.
Helen was born on January 19, 1921, in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Henry Lincoln Johnson of the Class of 1907 and Mary Buffum Johnson. She moved to Brunswick in 1927, when her father accepted the position of college physician. Growing up in the shadow of the College, Helen sat atop the lions at the entrance to the Walker Art Building, watched the bonfire rallies before football games, and came to know and love Bowdoin.
She graduated from St. Margaret’s School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and attended Colby Junior College for Women in New Hampshire and Connecticut College for Women. After working as a clerk in the Brunswick Craft Shop for two years, she was hired as a receptionist at the College in 1943. In 1946–1947, she was secretary to the dean, and she was then appointed as registrar, a position she held until her retirement in 1979. She was elected vice president of the New England Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers in 1957, and she served as the organization’s president in 1958.
Helen was an active member of the local community, serving as chief clerk of the Brunswick Civil Defense & Public Safety organization from 1953 to 1958, and was a corporator and trustee of the Regional Memorial Hospital.
She received Bowdoin’s Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff in 1978. The citation read, in part, “You have demonstrated keen organizational skills and strict adherence to the standards of your demanding profession. Yet, you have always recognized that your position goes beyond transcripts and sheepskins—that dealing with students and faculty members brings out the very human qualities of cooperation, understanding, and patience, which you have shared with generations of Bowdoin students and alumni so effectively.” Upon her retirement in 1979, Helen was made an honorary member of the Bowdoin Alumni Association. The Class of 1958 also counts her as an honorary member. Helen established the Henry Lincoln Johnson Scholarship Fund at the College in 1987.
Helen was predeceased by her two brothers, Lincoln and Robert; a niece, Mary; and by Sophie Dubreuil, with whom she lived in Brunswick for seventy years. She is survived by nine nieces and nephews and their twenty-three children.
We share with them a sense of loss, but also an appreciation of her care and concern for family and members of the Bowdoin community and her love of dogs, travel, and photography.