Beloved English professor passes away peacefully

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On Tuesday, March 2, the Department of English chair Dr. Toni Benis sent an email announcing the passing of Dr. Georgia Johnston. She focused on women’s and gender studies and was a Virginia Woolf scholar.  She had battled cancer for many years, and during spring break she fell ill, passing away in her sleep on Monday night.

A memorial service will be held  at 11 a.m. this Saturday, March 25, at Trinity Episcopal, 600 N. Euclid St., in St. Louis.

Johnston’s death came unexpected to many. She was still teaching classes and working on a new book project about how evolution can only explain certain changes in society to a point.

Radiant, eclectic, undeniable: three of the best adjectives one can gather to describe the storybook character that was Dr. Georgia Johnston.

As soon as she entered a room, she commanded attention with her bright, wackily patterned clothing, but what truly defined her presence shone through when she began to speak.

Similar to the literary characters Dr. Johnston taught about, she was entirely multifaceted. Her quick-paced mind bounced freely from novels to plays to poetry, leaving students wondering what could possibly come from her next.

Her Modern Literature class offered one of the most well-rounded and comprehensive portraits of a literary era one could receive.

Johnston provided a wealth of knowledge, not only in literature, but in history, psychology, culture and life. According to SLU student Bri Super, “the only thing you could really do wrong is play things too safe” when it came to Dr. Johnston’s classes.

She constantly asked more of her students, both as readers and as writers, encouraging discussion and throwing counterarguments their way any chance she could. This persistence bordered on unbearable at times, but there was a method behind her madness, as this was the type of pressure that had the potential to turn coal into diamond, pushing students to become more clear and effective in analyses.

Johnston did not necessarily strive to teach the popular works of the time, she instead opted to showcase the most thought-provoking and unique pieces, another example of her pursuit beyond the mundane boundaries of everyday life.

For many of her students, Dr. Johnston’s classroom was a source of comfort, where they could come to be challenged and inspired by a warm and positive spirit. Whatever struggles she induced with her rigorous teaching technique were counteracted in tenfold with kindness and humor. She was unapologetically larger than life and expected her students to be the same way, bringing out the best in all. Like many of the greatest storybook characters, Dr. Johnston’s story is one that has ended far before it should have, leaving many wishing to experience her light for just a little bit longer. However, it is certain that the lasting impression she has left on her students in just half of a semester runs far deeper in generations of students and loved ones. One does not forget a force of nature like Dr. Georgia Johnston. May she rest in peace.