Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
Dr. Stanley Dean Johnson sounds like quite a fellow. He’s a specialist in the works of John Donne, having received his bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Missouri and his doctorate from Yale, where he was Phi Beta Kappa.
He taught English at Northwestern from 1939 to 1943, when he enlisted in the Army, and was discharged as a first lieutenant in the Transportation Corps in 1946. In the fall, he was hired as an English instructor at UCLA.
The author of several scholarly articles on Donne, he was appointed editor of the Modern Language Association’s Seventeenth-Century News Letter. He’s been spending the summer of 1947 at the Huntington Library in San Marino, which has an extensive collection of Donne’s works.
Not only is he a brilliant scholar, but Dean is extremely popular among the faculty and students at UCLA, winning praise as a sympathetic, conscientious and enthusiastic teacher.
Unfortunately, the world will never enjoy the full harvest of Dean’s scholarship. On an August night in San Francisco, at the age of 39, Dean plunged from the 15th floor of the Russ Building, which had closed for the day. Investigators say he was in an office suite belonging to a power plant manufacturing company and might have grabbed a glass ventilator as he fell in an attempt to save himself.
Investigators found an ID card in his pocket and called his father, G.K. Johnson of Santa Rosa, who had no idea his only son was in San Francisco.
The final line of The Times obituary notes: “He was not married,” and although it could be a hint that he was gay it’s impossible to be certain. Like most newspapers in the 1940s, The Times was extremely squeamish about the issue of homosexuality—the word appears once in the paper in 1947, and even then it’s in a letter to the editor.
In a memorial tribute, his UCLA colleagues say:
Most men eddy about, make little impression on their fellows, and then die and are forgotten. Stanley Johnson was an exception to this acknowledged truth. His death brought a sense of acute personal loss to his friends in the academic profession throughout the country.
He had served only one year at the University of California, but in that short time he had established himself deep in the affection and regard of his colleagues. He was admired as a sympathetic, conscientious, and enthusiastic teacher. He was respected as a scholar whose work promised to make him a leader in his field.
But above all he was esteemed for his generosity and honesty.
His selflessness was boundless; his integrity, inflexible. He was sympathetic to weakness and gallant in his kindness; but he would not tolerate the petty, the devious, or the malicious in himself or others. His like is seldom found in or out of academic life.