Writing Her Name in the Sky

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Fannie Gaston-Johansson jets into retirement with a bit of the humor that marked lofty career

Fannie Gaston-Johansson PhD, RN, left them in stitches, reminding a globe-spanning crowd of family, friends, students, and colleagues gathered for a May 19 farewell party in her honor that she’s not the retiring type. Take her idea of piloting jumbo jets … please.

The first African-American woman to be a tenured full professor at the Johns Hopkins University and a University Distinguished Professor told of a call to one airline about lessons on flying a 777. It did not go well, as a representative questioned her age and abilities. “What is this?” she finally demanded. “It’s not like I’ll be flying my good friends to Iran and Afghanistan … at least not in the beginning.”

The next voice on the line, she said, was an FBI agent’s. “Oh no,” she told him. “I was just thinking about observing a pilot flying a helicopter. As for my three friends, I have no idea what they have on their minds right now. Their names are Phyllis Sharps, Jackie Campbell, and Martha Hill. You can catch all three of them at the School of Nursing, 525 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore MD, 21205.”

The audience roared.

“Sorry, Phyllis, Jackie, and Martha, but my mother told me, ‘When it comes to the FBI … tell them everything they want to know the first time you talk to them. That way, you will never see them again.’ ”
Indeed, the School of Nursing may never see another like Fannie Gaston-Johansson.

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