Diane Johnson's Retirement

Friday, August 22, 2014

At next month’s meeting we will celebrate Diane Johnson’s retirement from the Board and honor her years of service to the Foundation. I will miss her deeply, as will everyone who worked with her.

Diane was born and raised in Wisconsin and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from San Francisco State University.  She joined our Board in 1999 and in 2001 became Vice President, succeeding Don Warren to that position. In addition to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Diane is the President of Handsel, a private foundation that she runs in Washington that is primarily focused on animal welfare. She has served this cause tirelessly and passionately through non-profit volunteer work in Washington.

Our affection for Diane and our regret upon her retirement are based on things that are not found in her official biographical information: her genuine interest in improving the lives of disadvantaged people, her total lack of pretense and, most of all, her kindness. We saw these qualities at every meeting in nearly everything that she did. Guests, grantees, potential grantees, and new Board members have all been welcomed by Diane’s warmth and interest in them. 

Diane is the anti-socialite; she has no time for the pageantry or trappings of wealth. In her thinking financial advantages present an opportunity to help others and this is best done without self-aggrandizement. I have watched Diane prefer the company of the people we are trying to help and reject overtures from the well-heeled and connected. Unlike many in her shoes, Diane does not use position or wealth to draw attention to herself. 

Diane’s diligence (and Ted’s) in the pursuit of the Foundation’s mission have set a standard for the rest of us. For example, our Founder had the idea that the Foundation should support education of American Indians and the Foundation simply made an annual grant to the American Indian College Fund. This grant got divided up pro rata amongst the Tribal Colleges and wasn’t making a real difference at any of them.  Diane and Ted made site visits in Indian Country and met with native educators and leaders to ask how the Foundation could best serve American Indians. It became clear to them that the most pressing need was for increased economic activity on the reservations, which would create more jobs and opportunities for Native Americans. This knowledge was used to give shape to the Foundation’s mission in Indian Country.

The Foundation devised a strategy, before the idea was broadly accepted, of supporting entrepreneurship and business education at selected tribal colleges. Twenty years later the Foundation continues to employ this strategy. Recipients of Foundation scholarships now populate tribal governments, administrations and business.  Indian economies have been growing and acceptance of Indian entrepreneurship and business continues to grow.

Diane exemplifies the best of Board service. We will miss her at our meetings but we will continue to follow the standard that has been established and pass it along to the next generation.