Former Newport Harbor, CdM teacher sharp to the end

John Warren Johnson, a longtime science teacher at Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools, has died of congestive heart failure. He was 96.

His son, John Richard Johnson, said his father died Thursday at a hospice in Santa Barbara.

The elder John was remembered as a naturalist who devoted much of his life to the study of moths and butterflies in Southern California.

"He was sharp right up to the end," said John Richard Johnson, 60, in a telephone interview from Santa Barbara on Tuesday. "He was a teacher his entire career and, really, until the day he died. He had a remarkable memory for detail."

So enthralled with the life of insects, John Richard Johnson said, some of his father's students would name a few of the insects after him in his honor.

"From the time he was a boy, he became interested in the natural history of Orange County," his son recalled. "And in later years, he was very active in conserving Newport's Back Bay."

In 1993, John Warren Johnson was honored for his environmental contributions by the Lepidopterists Society at its annual meeting, according to his son.

He was also honored by the Audubon Society for his conservation work, and was named Teacher of the Year several times within Newport-Mesa Unified School District at the time. He mostly taught biology and chemistry at Newport Harbor High, later becoming chairman of the science department at Corona del Mar High until his retirement in 1974.

About 5,000 students passed through Mr. Johnson's biology and chemistry classes during more than three decades of teaching, and a number remained in touch with him throughout his life.

He was selected Teacher of the Year in Orange County in 1968. The National Audubon Society presented him its Conservation Award in 1969, and in 1970 he was chosen Newport-Mesa District Teacher of the Year.

John Warren Johnson was born May 12, 1914, in a small house built specifically for the Olinda oil company near present-day Brea.

"My grandfather came out to work for the oil company and they bull dozed a little road up the side of Santa Ana Canyon," John Richard Johnson said. "He was born in one of the houses they built for the employees."

John Warren Johnson was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth Daniell Johnson, in 2003. She was a math teacher at Newport Harbor High The pair met while teaching and were married in 1948, John Richard Johnson said.

After retiring, John Warren and Ruth Daniell Johnson moved to Santa Barbara to be near their son and two grandchildren.

A celebration of John's life will be held at the Vista del Monte retirement community in Santa Barbara at 2 p.m. Sunday. His ashes will be interred at Anaheim County Cemetery in a family plot.

Memorial donations may be given to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History or the Annual Assistance Fund at Vista del Monte.

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