Nan Johnson's accomplishments are many and well-known. Over three decades, from her start as a neighborhood activist to her leadership of last year's Forum 98 conference on women's issues, Johnson's public service has earned the respect of local and national figures and the personal gratitude of those she's mentored.
Johnson, who is retiring as director of the Susan B. Anthony University Center at the University of Rochester, will be honored at a special "Celebration of a Lifetime" Friday, June 4, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the Bausch & Lomb Wintergarden in downtown Rochester.
The evening, which will be emceed by Democrat and Chronicle columnist Carol Ritter, will provide an opportunity for community figures to talk about Johnson's achievements and influence. Other events will include musical entertainment and a video tribute from colleagues. An exhibit of photos and texts will trace Johnson's career.
"Nan is an extraordinary person who has contributed so much of her personal time and effort to improve the quality of life in the community," said Jane O'Donnell, one of the chairs of the celebration. "She has worked with such dedication in politics and with social agencies and organizations that people continue to come to her for advice. She introduced several local officials, like (Rochester City Council president) Lois Giess, to politics. Many people consider her their mentor."
Johnson, who is also adjunct associate professor of political science at the University, was one of the co-creators of the Susan B. Anthony University Center. She was named director when the center opened in 1995, the same year she stepped down after 20 years' service in the Monroe County Legislature. The center provides outreach programs on women's issues, some in collaboration with other University and community organizations. Among its ongoing programs are panel presentations on careers; a "Young Mothers Program" for pregnant and parenting teens from the Rochester City School District; and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony Conversations on Contemporary Issues. The center also has sponsored institutes on women's health and sports.
Elected to the legislature in 1975, Johnson was returned to office seven times. As the first woman and first Democrat to serve as majority leader and the first woman to run for Monroe County executive, Johnson helped to set a precedent for local women in elective office.
While in office, Johnson chaired the human services committee, was instrumental in the formation of the Maternal, Infants and Children Policy Group, and worked on such issues as women in jail, childhood immunizations, and teen parenting. Johnson was the author of legislation concerning the postings of warnings about fetal alcohol syndrome.
In 1995 Johnson co-chaired the national celebration of the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In 1998 she was co-director of Forum 98, a women's issues conference that brought together national leaders in business, education, government, media, and health to assess women's accomplishments and chart an agenda for the future.
Johnson was president of the Greater Rochester Area Branch of the American Association of University Women in 1997. She serves on the board of the National Women's Hall of Fame, and has been the recipient of numerous honors, including the 1993 Hannah Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women; the Florence K. Thiede Award for Perinatal Health Service; the 1995 Civic Award from the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce; and the 1998 Trailblazer Award from the Greater Rochester AAUW.
Though retiring from the Susan B. Anthony University Center, Johnson will remain active. She is serving as chair of the National Advisory Board to the Center and as president of the Friends of Women's Rights Historic Park in Seneca Falls. She will give a lecture at the University of Delaware in October and will be involved in preparing a women's conference during "Pan-Am 2001," the 100th anniversary celebration of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
Proceeds from "Celebration of a Lifetime" will benefit the programs of the Susan B. Anthony University Center. Tickets are $30 and reservations are needed. For more information, call the center at (585) 275-8799.