In Memoriam: Paul C. Johnson

In Memoriam: Paul C. Johnson

By University Communications
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Paul C. Johnson holds a tumbleweed in this photo from 1966. (Photo courtesy: Ciri Johnson)
Paul C. Johnson holds a tumbleweed in this photo from 1966. (Photo courtesy: Ciri Johnson)
Paul C. Johnson
Paul C. Johnson

Professor Emeritus Paul C. Johnson, founding faculty member of the College of Medicine – Tucson and the first head of the Department of Physiology, died Feb. 21 at the age of 93.

Johnson, who earned his doctorate from the University of Michigan, served on the faculty of Indiana University from 1956-1967. He joined the University of Arizona in 1967 and was charged by Merlin DuVal, the college's founding dean, with creating a physiology department and recruiting a world-class faculty. Among his first hires was Bill Dantzler, professor emeritus of physiology, who says Johnson built a successful department by putting equal focus on creative research and high-quality teaching.

"He firmly believed that a high-quality research program enhanced the teaching program, and that excellent teaching stimulated thinking about research problems," Dantzler said. "This atmosphere pervaded the department and was fundamental in the development of the department and the recruiting of outstanding young faculty."

Eldon Braun, professor emeritus of physiology, calls Johnson "one of the true gentlemen of science," and says he showed his commitment to all aspects of physiology when building the department in the late 1960s.

"At that time, it was the tradition of physiology chairs to build a faculty whose interests coincided with those of the chair," Braun said. "Instead, Paul recruited a strong group of physiologists to cover almost all the subdisciplines of physiology. He felt that such an approach was necessary to teach a state-of-the-art physiology course for medical and graduate students."

In a history of the department that was based on a talk Johnson gave in 1994, Johnson referred to his approach of hiring multiple faculty members in each subdiscipline as the "Noah's Ark principle, since we had two of everything in order that people would have someone to talk to."

"I have fond memories of the time Paul took to guide me in my early career," Braun said. "He did this for not only me, but other young faculty and graduate students in the department. At national physiology meetings, he would always take time to stop by graduate student presentations to offer encouragement."

Johnson focused his research on the physiology of microcirculation and the mechanisms that regulate blood flow in small vessels. His work helped Tucson become home to many leading figures in the microcirculation research area, according to a tribute posted by the College of Medicine. Over the course of his career, he amassed many awards and honors, including the Microcirculatory Society's Eugene M. Landis Research Award, the American Physiological Society's Carl J. Wiggers Award and an honorary Doctor of Medicine degree from the Transnational University Limburg, which operates in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Johnson led the Department of Physiology for 20 years, stepping down from the leadership role in 1987. He retired from the University in 1994 and moved to San Diego, where he continued his research at the University of California, San Diego.

He is survived by his daughter, Ciri, and sons Philip and Christopher. His wife, Genevieve, died in 2017.

Read the College of Medicine – Tucson tribute.

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