Old Town Club
Old Town Club Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27106
Friday, Apr 27, 2018
Centenary United Methodist Church
646 W. 5th Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Friday, Apr 27, 2018
- Mar 28, 2018
St. Petersburg, FL
Born in Winston-Salem, NC, the first child of Bessie Martin and Walter Eugene Johnston, Jr., Gene passed away in St. Petersburg, FL, on March 28, 2018, with his beloved wife, Karen holding his hand. Gene enjoyed 82 rich and varied years pursuing life the only way he knew, “full blast, all the way” as he said of himself.
He attended local Winston-Salem schools, graduating from Georgia Military Academy, and entered Duke University. Invited to leave Duke for his memorable fireworks displays, he joined the Army at 18 and married Augusta Gibson. They had four children: Mary Kathryn Jordan, Walter Eugene Johnston IV, James Martin Johnston, and Robert Norris Johnston. Following his honorable Army discharge, Gene entered Wake Forest University and completed both an undergraduate business degree and a law degree in just five years, while working full time.
Gene became a CPA, moved to Greensboro and pursued careers in law, business, real estate, and politics. Among his business interests were Fisher-Harrison Printing Company, Pace Communications (formerly part of Fisher-Harrison), and the Alderman Company in High Point. His first real estate venture was the Kings Arms, Greensboro’s first luxury apartment complex. Ultimately he consolidated his real estate holdings in Johnston Properties.
In 1980, Gene was elected to the United States Congress. He considered being part of the “Reagan Revolution” a tremendous honor and privilege. He met his wife, Karen, while serving in Congress.
Art, music and history were passions of Gene’s. As an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London, he and Karen spent considerable time in England, where his appreciation for the 18th century artist William Hogarth led to his early patronage of The Foundling Museum in London.
Among his other endeavors, Gene was a founder of Hope Harbor in Greensboro, a home for men recovering from addictions. He served on Gov. Jim Martin’s Budget Advisory Commission, and as Chairman of the Triad Airport Authority, he brought the airport to the attention of FedEx chairman Fred Smith, through their friendship as members of the Young Presidents Organization. Gene always retained great affection for his childhood church, Centenary United Methodist Church, and made significant contributions to the Christmas music program in honor of his parents.
In 1983, Gene married Karen Lang Stevens in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, an event punctuated with the frequent ringing of bells summoning Congressional members to vote. More recently, they have enjoyed the majority of their time in St. Petersburg, FL, Karen’s hometown and home to the Salvador Dali Museum, where Karen is currently Chair of the Board of Trustees. He was a member of the Greensboro Country Club, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and the East India Club in London.
Gene was a man of intelligence, integrity, generosity, and innate kindness toward everyone he knew. His faith sustained him through his many health challenges in recent years. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Karen; his four children and their spouses; eight precious grandchildren; and his sister Norris Johnston Goss and family.
Following a private family burial, Gene’s memorial service will be held at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, NC at 12 Noon on Friday, April 27th. A reception will follow at the Old Town Club.
Memorial gifts may be sent to www.FoundlingMuseum.org.uk, www.TheDali.org, or www.Centenary-ws.org.
Online condolences may be made through www.salemfh.com.
Joe and Pam Dillon
Walter, we are thinking of you and your family as you honor and thank God for your dad. As a new college grad from a small WV town, Joe was overjoyed that your dad gave him his first job in printing management at Fisher-Harrison. The year was 1971 and Fisher-Harrison was a wonderful place to work and grow in the knowledge of commercial printing. Gene provided the enthusiasm needed for a young man fresh out of college to succeed in his chosen profession! We don't forget you, Walter. Because of your dad, we also met you, a loyal friend and mentor to our three sons for many years. Our love and prayers are with you and the family, Joe and Pam
To the family,
Please accept my condolences on the loss of your loved one. I hope that the words at Psalms 34:18 and 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 can bring you comfort at this difficult time.
John L Williams
Gene was a notable exception among his peers. I knew him through grade school, high school, and Wake Forest and always appreciated his friendship.
May God Bless his Soul.