An era ended Saturday October 29, 2016 for SOMC. It did not end with some explosive dramatic event, but ended quietly, almost imperceptibly. Nonetheless, it was a decidedly important, significant event whose passing I want to share for the institution that is
SOMC and for the people who care about its history, its growth and the people responsible
for this growth.
George Johnson and his lovely wife Ann left Portsmouth that last fall Saturday of October 2016. The dappled red, and yellow leaves were still gently falling in a quiet homage. George and Ann left to a new home and life at the Villages near Orlando Florida. George grew up in Southern Ohio and trained in radiology at Ohio State. George practiced radiology at SOMC for about 40 years. George was the only president of our radiology group for most of those years. He managed to create a respectful positive relationship with every hospital administration during his tenure, sharing a vision of what the small rural hospital on the hill could become.
Even after he retired from the daily practice of radiology, the hospital administration asked him to serve on the executive board of the hospital. George’s level headed, sensible approach ingratiated himself to many hospital administrations.
30 years ago (1984) I came to SOMC having grown up in NYC and lived in Washington D.C. After about a year, I had difficulty adjusting to our rural community, so different from my large city background and I left for a position in Sacramento California.
In the Sacramento radiology group, initiative, creating anything new was frowned upon. Anything that made one person stand out, might make the other 18 look bad. This led to
mediocrity and stagnation. By comparison under George’s leadership, initiative, creative development of new services was appreciated, supported, encouraged and promoted.
This led to new CT machines, new MRI’s, development of carotid doppler ultrasound, breast MRI, MR cholangiography and angiography, cardiac MRI and more recently the same mindset to prostate MRI, CT colonography and coronary CTA. Many of these services were begun in our Southern Ohio community before much larger hospitals, such as Ohio State. None of this could have been accomplished without the leadership and encouragement of Doctor Johnson and his respectful positive relationship with many hospital administrations.
George attended most hospital functions over the past 40 years, giving generously to many hospital fund raising efforts. George was a fixture at lunch times for many years at Harold’s Restaurant, always ordering a Dutch Green and rye rolls. Of course that was before the CT scan became the “physical exam” of choice for the worldwide medical community! More recently, George was a fixture in the doctor’s lunchroom, where he would share his opinion on hospital events, the local comings and goings of different physicians, or world events. George was a stable fixture at the hospital even after he retired. Just as fixed as the north star in the evening sky, was George a fixture in our lunchroom towards noon, our hospital functions and in many small but significant ways, in many of our lives.
To me, and I suspect to many others, George’s leaving SOMC would be similar to the Statue of Liberty leaving New York. New York would still be there without its statue, but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Likewise, without George around, Portsmouth and SOMC are not quite the same, at least not for me and I suspect for many others. Sitting in the doctor’s lunchroom, watching the door open, I still expect that any moment George will come in and share his thoughts, his wisdom and his humor.
The Southern Ohio community and in particular the Southern Ohio Medical Center, its hospital administration, physicians and nurses, have all been grateful beneficiaries of George’s
lifetime of service, his quiet leadership and his valued friendships. I know I speak for all his many friends in wishing him only good things in his retirement in Florida and maybe an occasional hole in one.
George’s absence in our community leaves me sad. Something good and comforting and kind and generous has left our community. This has left a void not possible to replace, and we are all the less for it. In many quiet thoughtful ways, George left a mark on many of us, including me. It was because of people like George in our community, that many years ago, a young radiologist chose to leave Sacramento and return to Southern Ohio. You can find more restaurants and shopping malls elsewhere, but strength of character is much less common, and in the end, much more important.
As we enter this holiday season, it is particularly meaningful to express our gratitude to someone who has given us a lifetime of work for the benefit of our medical community and the Portsmouth community at large. With George’s leaving SOMC, a significant era in the history of SOMC has come to an end. An era, because of people like George Johnson, that in countless diverse ways contributed to, fostered and heralded in everything good and meaningful occurring at SOMC today.